You could make out the eyes closed on the surface, and the outline of the head, in the dark, that is all that was visible, but we could all tell that underneath was the body that belonged to that head, an ancient alligator. The zoo after dark was alive and crawling with plenty of human life in all shapes, sizes, and hues and many of the taller ones were holding onto to the hands of smaller ones to keep their micro community together and not lost among the crowds. There was one called Toby though that had taken his own journey and his grown up was yelling his name, a call into the night that was not yielding his appearance into her sight. All the while, the alligator did not bat an eyelid.
We tell ourselves all kinds of stories about where we are safe, where we hide, where we can be found, where we can hide. I have found that in crowds and in the dark holding onto someone’s hand is always a good idea.
I have held onto lots of little people’s hands over my lifetime and it still comforts me. I feel safer with this added responsibility. I feel braver. I feel protective. I do not remember the last time I held a grown-up’s hand and I notice how much I miss that experience, the simplicity of the touch. COVID has certainly been a barrier to that experience and of course my single status for nearly five years is the primary reason.
One hand I have had extended to me in this period, was at Kwartatuma Ormiston Gorge, Northern Territory, as I navigated the last of a long walk and had to cross a river and the water was above my waist and the rocks underneath slippery and not completely visible and a complete stranger offered his hand to steady me to take the steps I needed safely. He was very reluctant to offer his hand, but my vulnerability was indisputable, and he felt obliged to reach out. I still stumbled and fell. I was worried I was going to pull him in as well. He reached out again with more confidence, and I made it to the over side.
Holding hands is a signal to the crowd about who is connected to who and all that skin to skin contact and intertwining of fingers, making visible intimacy and possibility the power dynamics of the relationship. Close to roads my hand grips more tightly around the hand of my grandson. I watch others around me use their grip to confirm their ‘top dog’ status.
The simple act of hand holding makes visible love, fear, attachment, influence, control. Steering the direction of travel by the dominant hand holder might be a mutual decision of play or coercion. We all know what that feels like to pull towards and pull away from our intended course and allow ourselves to be led by the hand. It is sometimes a fine line between the squeals of delight and groans of reluctance by the person being led.
Then there are times we are like the invisible Toby, where we break away, go on our own adventure, and scare the daylights out of the one whose hand we were holding. Where we take off in a direction that no one else can see through the woods, or the crowd, or the density of feelings and fog. Where we set our own course and find ourselves perhaps out of our depth, looking for a hand to haul us out, or just find a place to hide in the shadows for a while not to be found and to have some respite from the crowd.
However we hold hands, the simplicity of this act helps us belong to each other. I will never tire from the comfort of holding the hand of a child, and all the more joy when that hand reaches out to me to be held, the visible invitation and trust offered in that gesture always, always warms my heart.