When I was growing up, my parents, as most parents did, cautioned me and my sister against touching things in stores when we went shopping. I don’t really remember it, but it must have been so, because now I feel guilty whenever I touch anything in any store. Except, I guess, for the grocery store, which isn’t usually a “just browsing” sort of place.
I passed down that instruction to my own sons. Except by then, I had learned some positive guidance techniques for young children. Instead of telling kids what NOT to do, adults should tell them what TO do. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t run,” a better choice would be, “Please walk.” So, in stores, instead of saying “Don’t touch,” (or, “Don’t you DARE touch that”), I would try to remember to say, “Please look with only your eyes,” which quickly, for each boy, shortened to “Look with your eyes.” An even better thing (I know now), would have been to use the positive I-message, “I’m worried when you pick up things in the store. Something might get dropped and broken or damaged. So please look with only your eyes.” This gives a child (or anyone, really) a logical reason to choose appropriate behavior, given in a gentler and more informative way. Okay, so much for the child guidance lesson.
Last week, I was doing some shopping to get ready for a week of activities for preschoolers at church.
I needed some cloth and went to the fabric store. On the way to the back of the store, for the plain white muslin, I walked by displays on tables and tables of fabric. I touched everything. There were soft fabrics and fussy fabrics and nubby fabrics and filmy fabrics. I TOUCHED THEM ALL, ignoring the tiny, in-brain voice that softy whispered, “You shouldn’t be touching.”
Next, I went to the craft store, for more fun things for the kids. I was meandering through, checking my list, and suddenly turned a corner and came face to face with the YARN! No, no, no! Oh no, NO, NO! I very quickly turned my cart away, back to other stuff. Just seeing yarn is bad enough. Touching yarn leads straight to purchasing yarn, and there is a moratorium on yarn-purchasing for me. No more yarn in the house until I knit up some of the stash already in the closet. No, no, no!
There’s a place I like to visit (no yarn there, whew), where handmade goods by a local arts guild are exhibited and for sale. (I’m not going to tell you where, specifically, because I’m afraid they’ll find out and never let me in there again.) I was alone, looking at a display of artisan quilts, hung on the walls. They were all stunning and beautifully crafted. One large quilt drew me closer and closer. The design and movement of how the different colors and textures were stitched together made it so very compelling, I guess to everyone, that there was a large “Do Not Touch” sign on the wall next to it. I completely understand that there are oils on our palms and fingers that make touching fine fabric a problem. Surely, the hundreds of people who would visit this exhibit could greatly damage this work of art. So, I turned my hands over and surreptitiously ran the backs of my fingers across the quilt. Oh, bad, bad, me! When I went to their gift store and walked around (touching everything, because it’s FOR SALE and how will people know they want something, if they don’t touch it first!), I saw a large, flared wooden bowl, about 20 inches across and 5 inches deep. It was so perfect, it looked, from a distance, as though it might have been made of plastic, from some factory that put out perfect identical pieces. But this bowl was was warm, streaked with whorls, and smooth, smooth, smooth, from hours of working and chiseling and sanding. I bent over and ran my hands all around the inside of the bowl, wondering at its beauty, and thinking to myself, “If my kids were here doing this, I’d be all over them!” Sometimes touching with only your eyes is not enough.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (NRSV)
A time to gain information, understanding, and pleasure through the sense of touch;
A time to keep your hands to yourself.