When I say the words “holding hands,” what first comes to mind? Love? Couples?
What exactly is handholding? It is a joining of hands from two or more people. It’s that simple, right? No. The joining of two hands can carry vastly different meanings in certain scenarios. Have you ever noticed, that in addition to a couples’ love, it also represents kindness, compassion, protection, faith, and forgiveness? At its core, it is love though—different kids of love, yes, but still love for the human race. As I started to explore the importance of hand holding, I started to look at when it occurs and how it makes someone feel. Let me share with you some of my own observations about this topic, starting with kindness.
This is first thing that comes to mind in regards to the short-term moments of holding hands. I use this word because holding a person’s hand in some situations involves helping, when you are not obligated to. The action could be as simple as helping someone cross the street, walk up and down steps, or maneuver an unsteady road. You are not screaming I love you! You are simply saying, “Let me help you.” Offering your hand to help someone out shows kindness towards another.
“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can read” ~Mark Twain
I view this on a deeper level than kindness. Compassion in this situation speaks when there are no words. It’s those times in a person’s life when silence is the only answer. It’s those times when holding onto someone’s hand whispers, “I’m here,” into their heart. In particular, think about anyone who has ever been in a hospital unconscious, at home in hospice care, or taking their last breath. Your hand on theirs says, “You are not alone in this. I am here with you.”
In this observation, the word protection is best defined as something that keeps a person from being harmed or lost. Children come to my mind first. As a newborn, they find your finger and grasp it tightly with their tiny hand. At that moment, they have found a protector. Soon enough, they are taking their first steps and need more than one finger. Now, each little hand is wrapped around two or more of your fingers, as you guide them along a safe path. We do this to protect them from harm. This usually involves coffee tables, door jams, electronics, and slippery floors. As children learn to walk, we lead them up and down steps, holding one hand, so they don’t fall. As they learn to run (away from us), we hold their hand to keep them safe. As families grow in size, older children now get the added responsibility of being a protector. I see this firsthand with my sister’s four kids. As they hold hands, the older child has a responsibility to protect the younger one and make sure that they make it to their destination—even if it is only to the next athletic event.
Holding another’s hand shows togetherness in many spiritual practices. Whether in a place of worship or at a dinner table, joining hands for the purpose of prayer represents unity of a common belief. Prayer circles are also a great example. By holding hands, the chain of positive spiritual energy travels through each person and then with massive force shoots into the sky for answers, healing, protection, or affirmation. That’s how I visualize it. Think about when you and another person were going through a difficult time and one of you said, “Let’s pray.” Did you hold hands? Most likely, you did. United, you prayed.
This one didn’t immediately come to mind until I watched a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The main character Meredith Grey showed that she forgave her attacker by holding his hand. I already knew what my topic for this week was going to me. So, imagine this…while watching the episode by myself, I said loudly, “They’re going to hold hands!” and the light bulb went off. I immediately added forgiveness to my notes. It may not always be an actual hand holding; it could be just one hand on top of another. Either way, in that tender moment, the person is saying, “I forgive you.” The touch of a hand with those words is even more powerful.
“When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive.” ~Alan Paton
Recently, my husband and I were walking to dinner in a busy outdoor shopping center. Prior to this, we were “discussing” which streets to turn onto, where the restaurant was located and which parking area was closest. When we got out of the car and started walking, we didn’t hold hands right away. It felt weird to me, especially because we usually do. I felt like a couple on a first date walking through the crowd. I honestly don’t think that he really noticed, since he had initially been busy checking his work phone. When he was done though, I waited. In actuality, it was probably a one-minute wait. I know, I know. Women are so hard to understand. After what seemed like an eternity, I reached for his hand and all was fine. I felt like our positive energy was back in sync. I share this story, in particular, because of our relationship. I feel secure in my marriage. I am not unhappy. My husband shows me everyday that he loves me with the simplest gestures. Yet, I was bothered that we didn’t hold hands. I just didn’t realize how much holding his hand meant to me, until then. I know, I know. I already stated that women are hard to understand!
The real question is how do two people become a couple? Holding the hand of another is usually the first step in any meaningful relationship. In my observation, it always comes before the kiss. Remember in the beginning when you walked side-by-side and somehow your hands touched for the first time. For some, this happened in a movie theater or a car ride. Either way, you felt the same as one finger found another; and the next thing you knew, your hands were joined. Fireworks went off inside your body. You probably tried to control the huge smile that suddenly appeared on your face. We all did. It was the first “I like you” sign. Joining lips is special, but it usually doesn’t occur without holding hands first.
As the relationship grows and saying “I love you” becomes a commonly said phrase, handholding takes on a different meaning. Grasping the hand of your significant other can mean I love you or I am proud to walk beside you. Realistically, I know that handholding does not occur as frequently when the kids are present and require your full attention. However, think about when it is just the two of you walking somewhere. Do you hold hands? How do you feel when you do or don’t hold hands?
At the other end of the love spectrum, holding hands in a troubled relationship speaks volumes. Couples in love have also been known to fall out of love. Sadly, this happens more often than it doesn’t. This is where the next handholding observation comes in. For any couple that has experienced an unexpected break-up, especially divorce, you know that it doesn’t happen overnight. I use the word “unexpected” because people don’t expect to divorce when they are saying, “I do.” Remember when you and your partner were “trying to work things out” and you reached for each other’s hand. Remember how you felt. Did you feel like everything just may turn out ok? I remember. It let me know that he wanted things to work out too. I also remember deliberately not wanting to hold his hand because I wanted him to know that I wasn’t ok with what was happening and I wasn’t sure if I wanted things to “work out.” In the end, once the handholding completely stopped, so did those relationships.
On a much brighter note, one of my absolute favorite things to see is an elderly couple walk hand-in-hand. I don’t know their story. I don’t know if they lost a job, home, child, or “their way” during the marriage. I don’t know if they were each other’s first loves, if they met after being widowed 5 years ago, or after a divorce 20 years ago. Seeing that couple walk slowly, holding hands, with gray hair, wrinkled faces, and curved hands somehow shows me that love is real and never-ending. The unspoken love that radiates around them silently shouts, “You have my love, for always.”
“The heart is the toughest part of the body. Tenderness is in the hands.” ~Carolyn Forche
This topic initially entered my mind because of a recent incident. Most of the time, I go to bed hours after my husband…night owl and early riser. This particular evening, as I settled into bed, we grasped hands and held them for a short time before one of us moved into our usual sleeping position. There was nothing unusual about that day. We weren’t sad, mad, or over joyous with each other. It was a regular day for each of us at work, and then home. However, the peace that came over me as I slept that night triggered my writing mind. I began to question the feelings and situations associated with holding hands.
There are various reasons why we hold hands. As I have had the chance to explore this topic, my belief has been confirmed—that people, of all ages, need to feel cared for, protected, forgiven, and loved. People need to feel like they matter; and something as simple as the touch of a hand can do just that.
“Basically, the only thing we need is a hand that rests on our own, that wishes it well, that sometimes guides us.” ~Hector Bianciotti