It happened quite unexpectedly when we were visiting with our 2-year-old granddaughter Ava, who lives in Nashville, Tenn.
When my husband and I arrived on a recent visit, at first Ava was understandably shy about playing with us. But games like hide-and-seek and plop-on-the-pillow began to ease her hesitation as we got to know each other better. After a day or two of mingling, Ava was eager and willing to play and read books together. Oscar and I were, too.
But the heart-melting moment occurred for me when we went for a walk. Exiting the house, I asked, “Here Ava, want to hold Memaw’s finger?”
With a big smile, she grabbed my index finger and held it as we walked through the neighborhood.
What struck me immediately was there is something so very special about a child’s touch. Strong and warm, it conveys a message of friendship, comfort, love, trust, respect and a willingness to engage.
Not so different from the messages of older fingers, I thought, reveling in this interaction with her. How often do our fingers speak for us when we shake hands with someone? A firm handshake can communicate volumes, and a weak or careless one also has a voice of its own.
And what do our fingers say when we pat a grieving friend on the back in an effort to comfort? Or run our fingers softly through a child’s hair? Or high-five someone who has just accomplished something challenging? Or tap the table impatiently when we’re waiting for something?
Our fingers and our mind seem to work often in tandem as we try to express our feelings.
As Ava and I proceeded down the street, I worked to permanently imprint the feelings I was having in my hand, my heart and my memory. Our walk lasted for quite a while, and I rejoiced in every moment. Periodically Ava would look up at me and smile, the message of her fingers transmitted to her face.
And as we walked, I thought of other times I had tried to comfort using my hands — holding my mother’s hand as she lay unconscious in the hospital, scratching my daughter’s back when she was tense and trying to relax, kneading my husband’s shoulders after a 500-mile car trip.
Fingers also can speak angrily for us if we slap someone, or when we point with exasperation after our instructions are ignored. We tend to use them unconsciously as vehicles of communication and they do a good job.
But what I felt as Ava held my finger will always comfort me when I miss seeing her, and reassure me that despite the geographical distance between us, she knows who I am and trusts me. I can’t help but wonder what my fingers were saying to her.
Freelance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at [email protected] She is author of “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”