Words on the Street, Revisited #7: Holding Hands

Bi-weekly chatter about how looking closely at some of the most common expressions in everyday life can prompt new ways of thinking about our writing.


My words and ideas are stuck in traffic.

I wish I could blame the backup and congestion on the building of a new road or the construction of a fresh pathway to my heart, my mind. I wish that, despite the delay, there might be a knowing. That after all this waiting a bright and shiny result will surface, like magic: smooth sentences and paragraphs like butter.

But, these days, that sort of wishing and knowing feels undoable. These days, I just keep thinking about hands.

There was, is and will continue to be circles of information to process, consider and learn about the May 24th massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Even the words process, consider and learn seem all wrong. I acknowledge that. In fact, most words seem all wrong when it comes to violence, shock and grief of this kind. In the day or two after this latest mass shooting many people I know and read uttered or wrote the words, “There are no words.”  (Also, that I use the word latest as a descriptor does fill me with equal parts rage and sorrow.)

Again, no words. But this time they are not just in traffic, waiting for congestion to loosen. Right now, they simply don’t exist. Or maybe they are just very lost.

With words out of reach, sometimes a photo can step in to help us-writers and everybody else for that matter-locate a word.  Or two. Is it possible that an image can elicit an emotion which might prompt something inside to untangle?

In the days immediately following the Uvalde shooting, I pulled away from social media and modified my usual morning news routine. This felt necessary for me, though I know all about how, in times like these, what can be necessary for one person is way beyond not necessary for the next person. I respect that. Yet, I still read my morning paper and wandered right into the fires, staring hard and soft at photographs of those who were killed. Many snapshots seemed to have been taken that morning, just moments before the terror began. I saw proud, smiling children and teachers who exuded compassion. I saw students standing tall, eyes bright, with those quintessential expressions that seemed to say, “Summer vacation’s almost here!” Many held certificates, balloons and end-of-the-school-year awards in their little hands.

Hands. Some with painted fingernails. Some not.

Most of the children killed were ten years old.

I think about my freelance work as a teaching artist, my occasional visits to third and fourth grade classrooms. When I ask the students how old they are, some answer by flashing their two palms my way. I think about my own children, now all in their twenties and how sometimes I still look at their hands when they wave back at me from city street corners, car windows and airport drop-off points. Or when they come home and fall asleep on the couch, holding the remote, a book, a bag of pretzels. I think about when they were infants, how I loved to stare at their baby hands and kiss their palms before watching their fingers fall back into a natural curl.

Palms. And, of course, that praying hands emoji. It seems like it’s everywhere. There’s plenty of talk about prayer these days. Thoughts, too. And I think that talk (and action) is critical, necessary.  What’s also critical and necessary is the talk (and action) around gun safety.

Speaking of palms, this leads me to back to that blank page. The words that come and ones that don’t. Back to how images-photographs and other forms of art-can help us find what may feel far away.

Here are a few visual prompts that have helped me muster up the courage to search for words and take a chance at the loosening, the untangling. Even on the dark days.


Holding hands means different things to different people.

Since my parents died many years ago, I find myself on the blank page with them more than I ever imagined. This is a unique kind of handholding, but it still counts. Sometimes they hold mine and sometimes I hold theirs.

I hold the hands of my close family and friends, sometimes literally, other times figuratively.

I hold especially tight those once-baby, now almost-grown-up hands of my four children.

Always, I hold those belonging to the man who wears on his finger a ring with my initials engraved on the inside.

Sometimes, too, I hold hands with people I’ve never met but whose life stories, like precious gems, I carry in my heart.

On days when the roads are clear and I encounter a blank page, many hands take me there.

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