One of the many ways we explore the world is with our hands. Before buying an item of clothing, it’s not unusual to touch it first to see how it will feel against one’s skin. On the darkest of nights we extend our hands in front of us in order to avoid bumping into things. We probably run our hands though our hair a hundred times a day. (Go ahead. You know you want to.)
But touch can also be reciprocal. There’s nothing quite as disconcerting as discovering that the touch you are giving is not the touch the other person is receiving. That’s happened to me several times in life. I once reached out to pat a friend’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort her, and she recoiled and said, “Don’t touch me!” Another time I went to hold someone’s hand, a thing I’d done with this person dozens of times before, but on this day he was just not in the headspace to do so. Another friend enjoyed being touched, but had been beaten so often as a child that you had to make sure he saw it coming or he’d flinch.
And then there are those times when you touch something expecting a certain sensation and you get another one entirely, as when you think something will be cool and it burns you. Electric shocks are like the anti-touch, as is being stung. Injuries to the hand can feel like a reproof.
Is there a word for that instant of giving a touch and then receiving something back? That moment of exchange, when you are either accepted or rejected, hurt or comforted? If there isn’t, there ought to be. That thing, that transition, that interchange is what allows us to thrive as living creatures. Without it we wither and die.