What would make to absolute strangers embrace? To stare into another’s eyes is intimacy enough, but to touch? To linger in touching? To embrace?
Touching another person is a peculiar boundary; after all it can happen so carelessly, clumsily even. Brushing past on a busy street, reaching for a common object, squeezing tightly into an overcrowded train carriage. All of these we’ll happily endure because somehow a touch can communicate intent.
Even the briefest touch from an unwanted source can send a person recoiling as if stung by a wasp. But a touch we long for, contact we crave, it never seems quite long enough…
And so to our couple. What shared experience; what mutual, impulsive urge could lead to complete strangers holding one another in such a way? How long would they have to share the moment, a second, a minute, an hour, before they are willing to cross that boundary? Perhaps it depends on the experience. Alone on New Years eve with the 4 seconds left on the countdown would you hold a stranger if you’d caught their eye? Perhaps. What if each of you had witnessed something so beautiful, so once in a lifetime…would that break the barrier down?
Maybe it is a thankful embrace. Maybe one has just rescued the other from certain death as the tram hurtled by. That embrace no doubt would linger. First resisting, as an unknown individual forcefully takes hold of you. Then accepting, as you realise there’s nothing to be done. Next willingly, as you become aware of the danger that is being removed. Finally thankfully, pausing in the overwhelming debt of gratitude you feel. That should do it.
Of course this couple are not celebrating New Years; they haven’t just dived out-of-the-way of a runaway rail carriage. They appear relaxed, at ease in one another’s arms.
Consider the numbers. With nearly 7 billion of us treading our pale blue dot and the growing pandemic of loneliness and isolation even in a crowd, how many at any one moment are thinking about holding close a loved one or a friend? How many are thinking about holding tight a stranger?
And with so many desperate to simply be acknowledged, how many would be willing to act if they knew that the other, the stranger, felt likewise? What of the odds of two such strangers passing on this modest street?
And so we return to our initial touch, the touch that can communicate. Here we have our happy couple who spoke so much without using words. Our contented duo who exchanged no glances but who called out loudly at one another as the softly rubbed shoulders, as they lightly clasped hands.
“Hold me.” He said. “I will.” She replied.
The odds are not important because here they stand before our very eyes; immortalized in pixels. Arms draped over each other as a sweater hangs off the shoulders on a fine autumnal evening. Their touch has said it all.
What could make absolute strangers embrace? A shared humanity! “It is not good for man to be alone.” The circumstances might require fine tuning, the courage may need stirring, but at its simplest all that is required is to be. We are made to be; to be held, to be loved, to be together, to be accepted. Perhaps our couple were brave enough to admit this at the exact right moment.