"Perhaps the most difficult task we face daily is that of touching one another—whether the touch is physical, moral, emotional, or imaginary. Contact is crisis. As the anthropologists say, "every touch is a modified blow".
Oh, to live like a bullet, to touch people with such purpose. To be born going one way, toward everything alive. To walk into the world you never asked for but then choose the room where your hunger ends—which part of war do we owe such knowledge? It’s warm in this house where we will die, you and I. Let the stanza be one room, then. Let it be big enough for everyone, even the ghosts rising now from this bread we tear open to see what we’ve made of each other.
| Ocean Vuong, Nothing
In studies designed to measure how social support influences the stress response, Coan brings volunteers into an MRI scanner and threatens to zap them with an electric shock. Periodically a symbol flashes before their eyes, indicating there’s a 20 percent chance they’ll receive a shock in the next few seconds. The goal, he says, is to create an “anticipatory anxiety” that mimics the feeling you get from everyday stressors like a looming work deadline.
But the volunteers aren’t in it alone. Some are holding the hand of someone they trust—a romantic partner, parent, or close friend. Others are holding the hand of a stranger. Coan has found that brain activity in the hypothalamus, the region heavily implicated in the body’s stress response, differs between those holding a loved one’s hand and those holding hands with a stranger. Clasping hands with a loved one tamps down threat-related activity.
All stories are also the stories of hands — picking up, balancing, pointing, joining, kneading, threading, caressing, abandoned in sleep, cutting, eating, wiping, playing music, scratching, grasping, peeling, clenching, pulling a trigger, folding.
∆ John Berger, From A to X: A Story in Letters
Tension and tenderness may appear to be opposing forces, but they both find root in the Latin tendere, meaning "to stretch." In French, "to stretch" and "tender" are the same word: "tendre," which can also mean to hold one's hand out.
Both softness and the act of offering gentle attention, and something being pulled, stretched out, becoming taut, speak to reaching out beyond oneself, to an ex-ten-sion.