The day was warm and sunny, unusually so for the season we were in. On a whim, we decided to go to the park. My husband dropped us off on his way to work, so we would only have to walk one way and be home in time to meet the bus.
My son played on the playground equipment, and some sort of water bird glided over our heads and landed in the shade of a weeping willow tree.
The sun in its warmth, the light breeze in its refreshing, the bird in its beauty–all remarkable. But what I remember most about that day is holding hands.
Our son is almost 4. When our daughter the kindergartener was this age, she began asserting her independence. She was ready to be in school years before her age allowed her, and I clearly remember the “I don’t need your help” battles. It was a confusing time for me, as a stay-at-home mom who sometimes wished she wasn’t. It is good, I would tell myself, that she doesn’t need me so much. But if she didn’t need me anymore, then what would my purpose be?
Fortunately, our son, the baby of the family, is spoiled by his mother who now has him most days all day by himself. Even when I’m tired and frustrated by his needs, I still say “yes” because some days I’m still not ready. The transition to stay-at-home motherhood was a long, tough battle for me, and the transition to kids-in-school-now-what-do-I-do is approaching.
And I find myself filled with expectation and dread.
It’s a dichotomy I can’t reconcile–wanting to be needed and wishing I wasn’t needed so much.
“I don’t need you hand.”
We walked into the school for kindergarten orientation and these were my daughter’s words as I reached for her. No, I thought. I suppose you don’t. But maybe, just maybe, I need yours.
“I need your hand.”
These are the words I hear most often from him. At times, they are part of a dramatic meltdown that only a gesture of hand-holding can solve. This day, it was a sincere request as we made our way home.
We walked home from the park that warm autumn day on tired legs. For all the energy he exudes, my son was dragging. It is no short walk. Manageable for a relatively healthy adult. Exhausting for preschool legs.
I am not a dawdler when it comes to walking. If there is a destination, I walk with purpose, closing the distance between here and there as quickly as possible. Some days I notice it. Most days, it’s just habit.
We left the park in plenty of time to be home for the bus’ arrival from school, yet I still felt myself wanting to hurry.
His hand in mine, we were forced to walk at his pace, much slower than my anxious hurry preferred. We took it slow. We stopped to rest when his legs needed a break. And each time we started walking again, his hand found mine.
“We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand …”
It was a recent Sunday that we’d sang the words to this neglected hymn in church. I remember in years past singing this song and actually holding hands during the singing. It is strange, at first, to hold hands with the people who sit in the pews near you. People who aren’t your relatives or spouse or children.
But it is an act of connection. A fleshly reminder of the humanity that surrounds you.
Holding hands while praying was something I often dreaded in my early Christian days. It felt intimate, even without fingers laced, and I was always self-consciously aware of whose hand I would be holding, like it was a proposal of marriage or something.
What I remember about those days is what I learned when I held someone’s hand. There were cold hands needing warmed. Rough hands reflecting a hard day of work. Dry hands in need of lotion. (Mine almost always are.) Sweaty hands in need of reassurance. Small hands needing a delicate touch. Large hands exuding strength.
No matter what the hand was like, there was a person connected to it, and eventually the hand holding became a normal part of our gathering.
My husband and I held hands a lot in our dating years and the first year of marriage. Then babies, diaper bags and children filled our hands and we slowly drifted from the practice.
As our kids get older, they like to hold hands with each other, and my husband and I are rediscovering the art of hand holding. One of the sweetest things I witness is an older couple, hands wrinkled, aged and still joined. I want to walk through these years of marriage still holding hands with the one I love.
When I hold my son’s hand, I am reminded to slow down.
When I hold my husband’s hand, I remember we are in this together.
When I hold my daughter’s hand, I remember that holding hands isn’t always about needing to; sometimes it’s about wanting to.
As a follow of Jesus, I want to hold the hands of my brothers and sisters when they’re weary, walking in step with them, not dragging them along to the next stop on the journey. I want to reach out and squeeze their hands to remind them we’re in this together. I want to offer my hand, not in a handshake as if we were doing business, but as one human connecting with another without words.
I will think of these things when we’re together and my insecurity will tell me I shouldn’t because maybe it’s too much touching. For whatever reason, there are some of us (I am one of them) who bristle at the touch of others. Maybe we’re fragile and fear that a touch will break us. Maybe we’ve been touched unkindly one too many times. Or maybe we’ve lacked touch and don’t even know that we’re missing it.
I’m slowly recovering my need for human contact.
My attempts will be hesitant at first. A pat on the shoulder. An uninvited hug. A squeeze of the hand.
Just know that what I really want to do is hold your hand.