As my husband and three children piled into the pew at Sunday morning Mass, I recognized an older couple who had renewed their vows after fifty plus years when we renewed our vows after thirteen. We had a magical evening that night two years ago, thinking back to the night we said "I do" and relating the story of us to our three children.
This Sunday, this couple sat a pew in front and to the left of us. The husband, after helping with the collection, came back to sit next to his wife. He promptly took her hand into his own, laid it on his knee, and with a single stealth move, covered it with his own.
My heart stopped.
I looked down at my own busy hands, intermingled in those of my youngest sons. I saw my husband's hands, they held the hands of our older sons. My heart ached, just a tiny bit, in longing for days gone by.
Days when it was my hand that was nestled in his, fingers intertwined, palms inseparable.
Those days gave way to days of holding newborns. Soothing their frantic, hungry cries; rubbing their bottoms to ease away gas, wiping dirty behinds and running noses of restless toddlers.
Now, these hands fold laundry, check homework, write checks for tennis lessons, afterschool activities, school fundraisers. These hands make dinner; whether a thoughtfully put together menu, or a quick warming up of the potluck of leftovers in the refrigerator. These hands wash dishes, load the dishwasher; clean up after the bounty is consumed.
These hands have held the hands of the sick as they recovered. These hands have held the hands of loved ones as they passed from this Earth. They have wiped tears of those who needed comfort; large or small.
They have been involved in covert operations: wrapping secret Christmas presents for their beloved, surprise birthday presents for sons who may have thought that their hints had not registered. They have addressed envelopes for invitations to share in joy, in sending well wishes to those far away in distance, but close in spirit.
These hands have seen so much. They have changed from those of a pudgy child, to those of a thin, well manicured teen. They have proudly worn a plastic promise ring, and have been graced by a hard-earned, modest engagement ring. They are slightly more wrinkled these days; desperately in need of a good manicure and pampering.
They treasure the moments in which they can be useful to someone. They are happy to lend themselves to whatever task lays ahead of them, to better a little corner of their world. They work tirelessly at whatever is there to be done. Filing, grading papers, praying, typing, washing hands, cleaning fish tanks, making beds, paying bills, bringing in groceries. So much to do. Only two of them for so much to be taken care of.
The biggest reward are moments like the one in church early Sunday morning. In feeling my youngest son's small hand within my own. Of seeing the remarkable growth of my middle son's hand as compared to my own. Of witnessing the gentleness in which John's hands held our oldest son's, with such ease and familiarity, that it made my heart break just a little.
And yet, as my eyes moved forward, back to that older couple, I got a glimpse of what lays ahead for us. Back to the days when there was no one else but me for him and him for me. When there was no race to see who would hold whose hands and the inevitable fight over who did. Back to just the two of us.
I suppose that there will be other little hands to take the place of those that are so rapidly growing. More little people to soothe, but in a different capacity.
But, what I most wish for is my hand on his knee, his protective, loving hand covering mine.
As it once did. As it will again.