Let Me Hold Your Hand

by Henry Swain

After the early church service lets out, I will sometimes sit in my car for a time to observe people on the streets of our village. At that time in the morning, visiting tourists have discovered the choice parking spaces have already been taken in the downtown shopping area. They have parked a distance away and are making their way toward the village center.

On the milder days of our tourist season, I have been surprised to note that about half of the couples are holding hands as they leisurely stroll toward the shop areas. It happens with older couples, younger couples and those with children. What is it in this involuntary gesture that puts these visitors in this apparent mood of contentment?

We can only guess, but I suspect coming to our village represents to them a change of pace from whence they come. The workweek for many may be stressful and demanding. Brown County and Nashville may seem to some visitors a respite and refuge from the harried workplace that demands so much of their time. Lines from Wordsworth come to mind:

The world is too much with us late and soon.

Getting and spending we lay waste our powers:

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.

I believe the architecture, the history of our village and the composition of its inhabitants suggest the accommodation of a more leisurely pace of living. Our visitors sense their lives are moving too fast, and that they may be missing something important that should not be missed.

Our town heightens the tourists’ nostalgia for the pace of living of their grandparent’s time when life seemed to be more manageable. Nostalgia is always part fact and part illusion, but that does not mean it is of no value.

The handholding tourist may find nourishment in spending a day mingling with others leisurely looking and shopping. Husbands sitting on benches while their wives shop may make new acquaintances and reminisce of earlier times. Visitors seem to shift to a lower gear in keeping with flow of the crowd. Even in the crowded restaurants they dine more leisurely even when there are standing patrons waiting for a table.

Nostalgia is not only a theme for our community to nurture, but a service to the visitors who come to us. It is as though we give each visitor a watch without a second hand. We offer them the illusion that their days with us are longer than the days they spend at home. The therapeutic value of this illusion may carry over to their next workweek and make it a little easier and more productive.

Holding hands is a way of exchanging very personal gifts. These gifts are delivered directly, unwrapped, and without bows and ribbons. Acknowledgment and appreciation of the gifts exchanged is sometimes noted by a squeeze of the hand.

The hand is a reflection of our spirit. It can be open and beckoning. It can be made into a fist. Held hands seldom have an adversary. The custom of shaking hands when introduced to strangers may not be the most sanitary practice, but it is in our culture a gesture of openness and trust.

The “laying on of hands” is with some religious faiths is a symbolic act of prayer and healing. Hands pressed together before us is also a prayerful gesture of gratitude. Pause for a moment to look at your own hands. Have they served you well? Are they lonely? Then take someone’s hand and see what it does for both of you.