12 Holding hands
The value of human touch
A patient was laying in a hospital bed. The people who can see inside bodies had said that what was inside her body wasn’t good. The people who want to figure out how to make things better had understood that things were only going to get worse.
And so family members and physician, pastors and a friend, were standing in a circle around her bed.
Everyone was deeply concerned. Everyone was “trying to process”, a phrase we use as if somehow our minds and hearts are machines that can take in phrases like “you likely wouldn’t survive the surgery” and “without it you have days at best” and can produce little bricks called “understanding” and “acceptance” that we can use to build something.
I prayed. I asked God for the peace that he can offer us in situations where it makes no sense to have peace. I asked God for courage and strength. I asked God, as I often do, to give the medical staff wisdom that goes beyond their training. I asked for that same kind of wisdom for the patient and for her family.
I stood next to her after we had asked God for wisdom because we had none. I looked at all these faces who cared. And I looked down at the patient.
I realized that no one was holding her hand.
I said, “No one is holding her hand.” And I asked her asked if I could hold her right hand.
She nodded weakly. She smiled. “Sometimes people are afraid to touch people who are sick,” she said, offering us an excuse.
She’s right. And touch can be inappropriate. But a person who is dying, who is clinging to breath and exhausted from wrestling with uncertainty and fear, may want a hand to hold.
Before you start holding hands whenever you walk into a hospital room, however, notice something else in that story. I didn’t notice the unheld hand until “After we had asked God for wisdom.”
James tells us to ask for wisdom and believe that we will receive it. We often think that must be about big things, about careers and partners and transcontinental relocations. But sometimes it’s as simple as noticing what we didn’t notice before. Because at that moment, in that room, with that person, holding a hand was the wisest next thing to do.