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When your big, slender hand slips into mine, joy spills through me. I soak it up like a new sponge, resisting the urge to squeeze. You’re a young man of eighteen, soon to graduate high school, bright-eyed with college dreams. Few fellows your age are comfortable showing affection to their mothers in public; even fewer are apt to initiate it. But here we are, mother and son, striding hand-in-hand across the park after a human rights rally. Friends and strangers are all around us.

Please, don’t let go.

Together we sidestep the soggiest grass, the ground squishy from late-winter snow melt. We angle across a parking lot. Your legs are so long, I have trouble keeping up.

You’re still holding on.

I want to tell you how glad I am that you took my hand, and how happy I am that you continue to clasp it. But I don’t. Any acknowledgment from me might break the spell, and make you self-conscious. It might cause your hand to fall away from mine.

I listen to your rambling reflections about the rally. You’re trying to assemble a puzzle whose pieces, from your perspective, just don’t fit. Where, you wonder, do ignorance and prejudice and hate belong in the jigsaw of this world?

We tiptoe across another sodden span of grass. We jaywalk across a street.

Earlier, I’d walked to the park alone. After finishing your sign for the rally, you followed by car. Now that the demonstration is over, I’m hitching a ride home. You’re leading me to where you parked.

Still holding on.

I draw a deep breath and sigh. This magical moment is a hinge on which so much meets and turns. On one side is everything between us that has gone before: the dreams I had of you before your birth, the nursings in the old wooden rocker, the silly dances that spun us dizzy, the first days of school, the crowds in which I almost lost you, the time you almost died … a precious history of your hand, tucked into mine.

On the other side of the hinge is everything between us that is yet to be. An image rises up of me in old age. You’re holding my hand to support me—keeping me company, and upright. Whatever the two of us might look like then, I can see the strength and steadfastness, still there in our joined hands. The trust. The bond that doesn’t confine or cling.

The hinge between our shared past and future swings wide within me. I marvel to feel it, unable to contain it, almost out of my body. By what miracle are my legs still moving?

We approach another parking lot. A massive pile of snow looms on the lot’s edge, stubbornly resisting the sun, shoved there by a plow after the last storm.

“Car’s just beyond it,” you say, nodding toward the pile.

Nimble feet have worn a narrow, slick path through the softening middle of the snow. I know that’s the way you will go, right through the heart of it—just as you know that, to be safe, I’ll circle around.

I feel you hesitate. The hinge stops on its pivot.

“Go on,” I say, releasing your hand. “I’ll meet you on the other side.”

* * *

Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. What’s happened since? Here in the United States, with a population of around 330 million, more than 29 million have been infected. More than 529,000 have died. About 10 million have lost their jobs.

Just like my son and I did after the rally, you and I are walking the soaked ground of spring, our hands clasped in friendship. Every step we take, every moment we share, is a living hinge between What Has Been and What Will Be.

So much meets and turns here. We’re relieved to feel hope about the future. We celebrate the widening distribution of effective vaccines; the development of promising medicines; the cautious re-opening of schools and businesses; the economic relief flowing into communities; the jubilant reunions and the return of hugs.

But along with our hope and happiness remains our grief. We’ve lost so much, and so many. That’s the other side of the hinge. If we pretend the grief isn’t there, the hinge will creak and groan, begging for the oil of our attention.

The hinge between past and future swings wide within us. Sometimes it causes us to marvel, but it can also daze. What shall we do then—when we fear that we’ll fall apart, unable to contain our emotions, almost out of our bodies?

We breathe. We sigh. We weep. We feel each other’s hand clasped in our own, and we cherish it for being there. One way or another, we help each other make it to the other side.

Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.