I saw it happen twice this week and don’t think I’ll ever forget the totally unexpected feelings it engendered. The first time I was on a treadmill in the gym – focused on the time that had elapsed and the distance I had covered – when I noticed a quite elderly woman on the treadmill next to mine walking very slowly. She appeared somewhat fragile, and I guessed her to be in her 90s and marveled at her focus and determination to exercise.
Turning my attention back to my own task, I was watching the news unfold on the TV screen in front of me when an older gentleman approached the woman’s treadmill and extended his hand. I assumed he was her husband, and I watched as the woman stopped the treadmill and reached for him as well. Clasping hands, he helped her carefully dismount from the machine and they turned to walk away.
It was in that moment that the camera of my mind captured a freeze-frame I can’t forget. Her hand was delicate, frail-looking and textured with blue veins extending into long, slender fingers. His was larger and looked strong as he entwined his fingers among hers. In those few seconds I saw much more than I was prepared for.
I saw love, support, commitment, determination and partnership. I saw what I imagined was a long-standing marriage and encouragement. I saw help and heart and a kindred focus on health.
I have thought about that moment for two days now as I pictured my parents’ hands – holding and helping – as they dealt with the frailties of advancing age near the end of their lives. The hands in the gym spoke to me of the desire for health and of marriage and family, of cooperation and caring. I felt as if the moment had been instantly carved in stone, a powerful reminder of what comes with love.
Leaving the gym, I was encouraged by what I had seen that day. Later that evening, as we dined with friends, I saw a replay of the moment when a couple in the dining room rose to leave. The woman walked just a bit unsteadily and the man gently reached for her hand to help. Once again, as fingers entwined, I saw lives entwined, enmeshed and nourished by the emotions and feelings that accompany love.
And it occurred to me that the act of holding hands says so much. We hold a child’s hand to keep him safe and to set limits about where they can run or wander. We may grasp a friend’s hand in a moment of gratitude and appreciation. We extend our hand to strangers as a welcome sign. Touch has a voice of its own and can say so many things.
In the gym, I was moved by thoughts of my parents in the past and my own possible needs in the future.
Hands do truly speak a unique language. Supple and strong or fragile and weak, they can communicate so much by gesture and contact and are a conduit for many emotions. Whether by a pat on the back or a warm grasp that supports and reassures, they often can be and are the messenger for our feelings.
Freelance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at [email protected] She is author of the book “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”