The back of the old woman’s hands were covered in darkened age marks left there by the passage of many years. The fingers and knuckles were misshapen as arthritis sought to destroy the once youthful hands of the woman. The pain caused by the arthritic condition was excruciating and could be brought on by the slightest touch from another’s hand to hers.
I held the old woman’s hand when we were young and sat on new mowed grass in the park. Her hand was young and soft and she held tightly onto mine. I knew she could, at any time, release her embrace on my hand, but I never thought she would, and she didn’t until it seemed the time was right. When the touch of our hands was parted I always knew the familiar two hands would soon come together again.
When the time came to come together as man and wife we again held hands. The hands gripped each other tightly as if there was determination and resolve there, but much more than anything else, there was love and I placed a band of gold on the ring finger of her hand. We held hands many times over the middle years of our lives and while many emotions were present, most prevalent among them was that of love. Her hand was still soft and had the strength to squeeze mine tightly.
After many years of marriage both the old woman and I aged almost without notice as it happened so gradually over time and we were so accustomed to one another. I recall we held hands less often but when her hand was placed into mine the feelings I had when I was young were resurrected and I recognized that same familiar and comforting touch I had grown so accustomed to. The skin on her hand was not as soft and her grip not as strong but that didn’t matter as time had changed me, as well. Time feels no shame, remorse or guilt and has no conscious.
When the old woman and I passed into the latter years of our lives holding hands was uncommon. It was as if we had forgotten what had been so comforting and reassuring for us over all those years. Her hand was now very old and I remember once pausing to look at it closely. It had changed in appearance to one of wrinkles and the texture of the skin had become coarse and dry, but I didn’t mind the changes. I recalled the youthful hand with soft skin and in some ways I missed it, but I wouldn’t have exchanged the older worn hand now covered with brown age spots for any other.
There came a time when I sat next to her bedside and my hand took hers but the old woman’s hand only weakly and softly grasped mine, and after a moment it merely lay motionless in the palm of my hand. I rubbed the back of her hand with my thumb and remembered the green grass in the park, our wedding ceremony and the many moments and years we spent together while our hands aged.
Her hand released mine and fell to the side of the bed. It remained there frozen for what seemed a very long time and I dared not touch it. I was positive that her hand would not hold mine and I didn’t want to intrude on its sleep. The hand looked peaceful as it rested motionless while suspended in air. I made several motions toward her hand with mine but stopped each time before touching it. That gold band that many years ago was placed on her finger fell from her hand and onto the floor.
After the passage of many moments, and while scattered thoughts raced through my mind, I decided to once again grasp the old woman’s hand. I slowly retrieved the fallen ring, once again and after the passage of all those years, placed it on the ring finger of her left hand. I then gently took her hand in mine and raised it from the side of the bed. With great care I placed her hand next to her side and released it from my grasp. I knew the moments of holding her hand had come to an end.
I always knew that, although our hands didn’t speak to one another, they communicated in the most subtle and wonderful way. It was the communication that only the soft touch from one person to another could accomplish.
There were times when the old woman stumbled and fell and at those moments in our lives it was my distinct pleasure to extend my arm, place my hand in hers and help her to her feet. Each time I assured her that my hand would always be there for her to take and I would help her rise up. There were also many times when she, without the slightest hesitation, extended her hand, grasped mine and helped me to once more stand.
A hand extended downward can often help someone in need rise up, and keep in mind, we all stumble and fall. The simple gesture of offering an open hand to someone can be a prelude to so much: the opening of defensively crossed arms pressing tightly against one’s chest or the opening of what is most assuredly the hardest thing to open, a mind that was once convinced it didn’t need anything or anyone.