If years of snorkeling have taught me anything it’s that some breeds of fish like to cuddle. They like to swim with you, swim under you, trail you, and, after you’ve earned their trust, be petted. Some keep their distance and aren’t into any of that. They are scared or disinterested where others are curious. I said this once to a fellow water traveller and he assured me they only hang out with us humans because we’re bigger and provide protection. That may be in some cases, but I’ve experienced it differently. I’ve experienced real relationship with some of these fish people and an understanding about the standoffish ones. There is a difference between anthropomorphizing an animal and noticing our commonalities in body language. I’m not saying all dolphins are smiling at us, but I am saying certain fish welcome you into their schools. (I know, I know… dolphins aren’t fish. But they are well-educated.)
When I stopped eating fish, guess who noticed. That’s right, fish. Even some of the standoffish types began swimming up to me. We can make sense of this in the cold, scientific way if we like. We can surmise that they have a sensory organ that differentiates fish eaters from non and that their fear response relaxes accordingly. We can make that cold calculation with that example, but what about with cuddling? What is it about loving touch that transcends species lines?
Touching on Touch
Some of us obsessively pet our pets. In fact, we call them pets because we like to pet them. This tactile sensation must be a big deal in our lives. But why? What is shared in touching?
The basest, most primeval thing that is shared through loving touch is the bit of knowledge that you mean each other no harm. Touch is its own language and it leads to further communication. When we think about something base and primeval, we think about that which came first and upon which all else is built, but touch illustrates something slightly different. It indicates that not only did it come first, and not only did we build other forms of language off of that foundation, but it is the only point of meaningful contact we share with many other organisms. This, because we do not share any other form of language with most beings around us.
We cannot and should not just force our will on another and hug every squirrel in the yard. That never ends well. But sometimes a squirrel approaches you for more than a nut. A little scritch under the chin, perhaps. We still need touch more than anything as the “I mean you no harm” greeting and as the way to express love and affection. The least it says is, “I mean you no harm.” The most it says is, “I’m here to make you feel good.”
Beneath the touching surfaces we are one and that one is joy. But on the surface level of more-than-one, where we rarely live in joy, we experience a twinkling of it when in right connection with each other. Hence, making another feel good makes you feel good.
If the movie E.T. taught us anything, it’s that touch, with some unlikely beings, is a way to rightly connect. And cuddling reminds us of our singular joy bubbling beneath the surface of shared experience.
Unless it’s a spiny urchin. Then… don’t touch!