In the summer of 1979 I was 16 years old. One muggy, warm evening I was picked up by my first date ever and went to the county 4-H fair. As my date and I were engaging in polite conversation and making our way through crowds of people to a stand where you tossed rings around bottles to win oversized stuffed animals, the young man, just two years my senior, turned suddenly and his hand brushed against mine. A wave of excitement rushed through me. Just a gentle touch of the hand made me think suddenly, acutely, of nothing but him. Years later that same hand took mine on our wedding day when my first date became my husband who promised to love and cherish me the rest of our lives. I remember the security I felt with fingers entwined, us against the world, as we walked down the church aisle as Mr. and Mrs., and emerged as a new couple, a new team.
Sometimes, on Sundays after Mass, we would drive into Michigan City, where his grandparents lived. His grandfather, who was nearly blind and could hardly walk, sat in a rocking chair by the window. I would sit by him and offer my hand. He clenched it tightly. As he recounted stories of his youth he would squeeze my hand or gently tap it with a finger. He had lost one of his thumbs in an accident but that did not deter his lively hand gestures or exuberance in grabbing my hand. He seemed to gain strength from that simple physical contact. There was a relational power in that effortless act that took understanding deeper than mere words or glances ever could.
The first Christmas my husband and I spent together was not in a cozy corner of our home or our parents’ homes. Rather, we spent the day in the hospital emergency room. My husband held my hand before I was whisked away for a D and C. I had miscarried our first child earlier that day and complications were arising that necessitated the procedure. I was young. I was scared, but the squeeze of my husband’s hand gave me the courage to get through that difficult day. Four more times, we suffered the loss of a child, and each time my husband was there, offering his support … and his hand.
My husband also held my hand during the births of our nine children, and he probably still has nail marks on his palms from when I had to have a bone marrow biopsy and I dug my fingers deep into him.
When our oldest was an infant, I loved to sit in the rocking chair, with him. As infants do, he clutched my finger when I put it in his palm. It was our first hand-hold. Soon, along came his brother. The three of us would take walks every day, and I loved holding their hands as we strolled along, exploring the neighborhood.
With each child added to our family, our hand-holding circle grew. We held hands as we read books together, relaxed on the sofa and as I sat by them, first next to the cribs, then the beds, until they drifted off to sleep at night. I didn’t worry about rushing off to get something done in the evenings. Somehow I innately knew the time was limited and there wouldn’t always be the opportunity to simply share moments of fingers intertwined.
I recently read an article in which a doctor stated that hand-holding reduces stress. I believe it. A study by psychology experts at the University of Virginia found that subjects who held someone’s hand during a difficult procedure were more relaxed than those not holding hands. They further found that the greatest hand-holding benefits came from spousal hand-holding. Researchers concluded that there are measurable benefits of being socially connected, and of close physically-expressed, emotional relationships.
To hold someone’s hand you have to trust them. Holding hands, non-verbally, says, “I want to relate to you and words are not enough — or even necessary.” Hand holding can convey love or courage. It can demonstrate affection or understanding. You can’t hold someone’s hand and stay mad at them for long. Words may be misspoken or misunderstood. Holding hands cuts through misunderstanding. Holding hands is real.
When we help we “lend a hand.” When we applaud we “give a hand.” But what about simply holding a hand? I think the world would be a better place if we just did that.
Are you a hand-holder or not? Write me at TheresaThomasEveryday [email protected]
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