I’m traveling again.
A few days ago, while on an airport bus, I noticed a middle-aged couple sitting across the aisle from me. They were holding hands. It was just a simple pose, supported by companionable silence, but it struck me to the core.
I hadn’t held someone’s hand for nearly 20 years.
When I write it like that, it seems even odder than when I first thought it, sitting on the bus.
“I haven’t held hands with someone for nearly 20 years.”
Jesus says that those who are called have no need of marriage. Paul warns us that marriage will only get in the way of serving God. And while I wholeheartedly agree with Jesus and Paul, the image of those two people linked by a simple comforting gesture made me feel a need I hadn’t felt for a long time.
Sure, I’ve hugged and been hugged, endured many a cheek-peck, shaken hands more than I’ve wanted to – even accidentally pressed up against strangers in a jam-packed subway car – but none of that comes anywhere close to the sustained warmth of holding hands.
I hold hands with God all the time, but more in a figurative sense. That doesn’t make our hand-holding any less real, just less human.
I realized, sitting on that bus, that I missed human touch.
Fast-forward a few hours later. I’m crammed into my window seat, half way into my two-hour flight. One row ahead, a little baby keeps peering back at me through the gap between the window and the seat. Her mother is cradling her, and the baby’s head overhangs into the gap.
She’s watching me.
She wriggles a bit and a tiny dimpled hand appears through the gap. I wonder at the tiny perfectness of that hand, with fingernails no larger than pinheads.
She keeps watching me.
Then she stretches out her hand, trying to reach me. I lean forward and smile at her. She wiggles her fingers. I reach out with one finger and touch one of her fingers, for all the world like the painting of Adam reaching out to God.
And then it happened: She grabbed hold of my finger and wouldn’t let go. Her grip was fierce. She kept watching me. For a half hour she hung onto my finger and wouldn’t let go. Her mother must have been napping because she didn’t change positions in all that time. And in all that time, the fierce little baby with the perfect dimpled hand held onto me as if her whole world depended on it.
I was holding hands again.
With a human.
When the plane landed and we were gathering our belongings, I exchanged pleasantries with the mother and asked the baby’s name. It was Arabella, and Arabella was just six months old. Arabella hadn’t so much as whimpered throughout the 2-hour flight, even as the half-dozen or so other babies onboard had struck up periodic group howling sessions.
I said good-bye to Arabella and her mother, knowing I’d probably never see either again. Arabella had successfully accomplished her work of charity, and it was time for her to move on.
Cue Bella the Chihuahua.
The next day I was standing on a subway platform waiting for the train to arrive. A middle-aged woman appeared next me, trailed by a tiny chihuahau bundled up in a pink hooded bomber jacket. The length of the dog’s leash was decorated with pink bows every few inches. I couldn’t help smiling.
I struck up a conversation with the woman. She introduced me to Bella the Chihuahua, who then promptly moved over and sat down next to me. She didn’t bark or fidget; she just sat there. When the train arrived, the woman scooped up Bella and carried her on board. Then they both sat down next to me and our conversation continued.
After a few minutes, Bella climbed onto my lap and made herself comfortable. For the next 15 minutes, she just sat there while I spoke with her mother. The small pink-swaddled ball of warmth on my lap weighed only a few pounds, but what a comforting presence! I regretting when I had to get off. And all that time, not a bark or whimper out of Bella.
God knows what we need, or as my grandmother used to say, “The Good Lord provides”. Serving God is never about deprivation. Jesus was never deprived. God doesn’t want us to live our lives here deprived or feeling like we’re missing out on something by serving him. He saw me watching the couple on the airport bus and wanted me to give me what I thought I was missing. He sent me Arabella, and then he sent me Bella.
The comfort of sustained human touch comes in all forms, even little pink bomber-jacket-bundled four-legged ones.
Ask, and ye shall receive.
The Good Lord provides.