It was a beautiful wooden footpath surrounded by trees in the Northern California foothills, and I held her hand. It sounds romantic, but it wasn't. The hand I was holding was my mother's.
Mom is in her eighties, now, not too sure of her footing. It was a family outing. My young nephew and niece ran ahead, and as we walked along the rickety boardwalk, Mom reached out and grasped my hand to steady her slow, stiff walking. We walked along, painfully, slowly. I realized how frail she had become, and how small and fragile her hand seemed. And, out of nowhere, hazy memories began returning, uninvited.
I'm four years old, and Mom is holding my hand as we cross the busy San Francisco street: Mom holding my hand on the first day of kindergarten. I'm 10, in the emergency room after a little league baseball hit me and Mom is holding my hand while the doctor stitches. As we walk, I remember, and wonder how this reversal happened, somehow my tiny hand has become the big, strong one and hers the tiny one to be held across the street.
Holding her small hand, I think of the many small hands I've held through my years as a teacher, all those field trips and every year one timid kid, clutching tightly to my hand through drafty museums and crowded buses.
Mom and I inch our way over the boardwalk. I realize that few acts have such a positive effort-to-reward ratio as holding a hand, so much comfort, connection and courage given with so little energy spent. There is something basic about holding a hand. As Arizona Congresswoman Giffords lay in a coma, not all visitors spoke to her, but they all squeezed her hand.