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John R. Eggers: Who is holding your hand?

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I recently drove past a hitchhiker who was holding a very young girl on his shoulders and a second little girl by her hand. I assume they were his daughters. It was raining and none of the three were dressed for rain. I could tell they were not happy campers.

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I had a car full of stuff and no room for anyone. I wished I could have stopped. Has this ever happened to you? Although the man was holding his daughter’s hand, I wonder who was holding his hand.

It is important that each of us has someone’s hand to hold. I think when a spouse passes away, the thing that is missed the most is the absence of a hand to hold.

Holding someone’s hand is symbolic of many things. Often during religious services, the congregation will hold hands while praying. We hold hands briefly when we shake hands. Holding hands is used to guide someone, to maintain one’s balance, to arm wrestle, to dance, to give support and to express friendship and love.

Do you remember the first time you held someone’s hand who you truly cared for? Wasn’t it a magical moment? Didn’t that feeling bring some goose pumps? For that moment in time, nothing else mattered. You had everything you wanted and needed.

Who is holding your hand?

After the homecoming bonfire in my hometown when I was growing up, all of the kids would form a snake dance by holding hands. The cheerleaders would lead us through the streets going in between cars and around streetlights and down the alleys. There would be a couple hundred kids in the line; all holding hands with the older kids in front and the younger ones behind.

Even though the kids at the tail end would get whipped back and forth, there was some comfort in knowing that you were holding hands with someone. Even though you could not see the kids at the very head of the line, you knew someone was there.

All of our soldiers deployed overseas receive comfort in knowing someone is at home caring about them. In essence, they are holding their hand. I felt this way as a Peace Corps volunteer in South America many years ago and then as a teacher in Iran. I knew that many people back home were holding my hand.

I guess that is the point of holding hands. You feel better because you know for sure someone is there. You can feel their presence. Someone is with you.

Who is holding your hand?

When I was in Iran, I was surprised to see men as well as boys hold hands in public. This is a custom in Arab countries and in parts of Africa and Asia. Men who hold hands show a sign of friendship and respect for each other.

Many people were surprised when George W. Bush and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia held hands in 2005. Had people known this is a sign of respect in Arab countries, many would have applauded Bush for his efforts to bridge the cultural gap.

When elementary school teachers take their students on a field trip where they have to walk, they often have the boys and girls hold hands.

This helps the teachers know the children are in line and to prevent them from running into the street. Holding hands means children are safe.

When I was teaching elementary physical education, I would often have students form a circle by holding hands. It was quick and easy and young children didn’t mind holding hands. They enjoyed holding hands with their friends. A bonding took place.

Who is holding your hand?

In my work with teens experiencing difficulty in school, I often ask myself if they have someone to hold their hand. Do they have someone that sincerely and unconditionally cares about what they do? Young people who do can get through the tough times. If there is no one to hold their hand, they are like the hitchhiker in the rain who is trying to balance a child on his shoulders. In this case, a teen is trying to balance a troubled world on his shoulders with no one to help hold him up.

My father, age 97, has been holding my hand for all of my life. I hope he feels that I am holding his hand as well.

Most couples start out by holding hands. It’s the first sign that a meaningful connection is being made. It’s the first sign that they are willing to share, to give, to show comfort, to love.

When someone is dying and during those last hours or minutes, a parade of loved ones come by to offer comfort and compassion. What do they do? They will take the person’s hand and hold it.

The last minutes of a person’s life are usually spent with someone holding his or her hand. It’s the least we can do, which often is the most we can do.

I sincerely hope the hitchhiker does have someone to hold his hand. I hope you do, too.

— JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.

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