Holding Hands in the Dark

Tracy was my best friend in elementary school, and, though her motives remain unclear, I suspect she chose me as a friend because she was kind, compassionate, and knew I needed her. 

And because she lived across the street so I was hard to avoid.

Not that she ever made me feel like she was avoiding me. On the contrary, she always made me feel welcome and wanted and loved.

And she cleaned my room for me a lot. 

And she let me eat all the ramen noodles while she drank the broth. 

And she didn’t blame me when our hamster, Fluffy, for whom we shared joint custody after combining our allowances to purchase him, died from choking on a piece of his plastic cage while in my care.

Best friends forever, man. 

But Tracy was popular, and I was not. She had that uncanny and apparently inborn ability to know what to wear, how to entice people to pick her for teams, and how to make dozens of friends, so I regularly watched her on the playground and wondered what I had to give to our friendship.

Until nighttime.

During overnights, Tracy became terribly homesick, and so we usually slept in the living room where we could see her house out the picture window, kitty corner from mine. And then we’d hold hands while we fell asleep.

The thing about the dark is it can be overwhelming. And sometimes, we just need friends who will sit with us in it.

This weekend, our cousin, a 1st grader like my twin boys, stayed over. He’s tried to stay at our house before, sometimes even successfully, but he never likes it here after dark, when the chaos is finally tamped down to a quiet smolder and all the distractions are gone, so he usually asks to go back home, a few houses down the street.

This weekend, though, his parents were away so home wasn’t an option and he was stuck with us. And he did GREAT sleeping in the big puppy pile with the other 1st graders on the floor of our bedroom with their stuffed pets and pillows and blankets and elbows and knees crammed in each other’s faces.


He did GREAT, except for 3:00-5:00am when he woke up and it was dark except for the dim glow of the bathroom light which, let’s be honest, is never enough. He didn’t fuss or cry or moan or whine, though. He just said, in a small, snuffly voice, “Is it morning yet?”

And I said, “No. I’m sorry. It’s the middle of the night.”

And he said, “Oh,” but like it broke his heart that he hadn’t made it through the dark yet.

So I said, “Want to come up here beside me?”

And he said, “Yes.”

And I said, “OK.”

So he crawled up into my bed and laid his head on the pillow beside mine, and I said, “Do you want to hold hands?”

And he whispered a barely audible “yeah” while his cousins snored on the ground.

We spent the next two hours snuggled up in the dark, holding hands and waiting. Eventually, he fell asleep and so did I, and the sun rose sometime after we stopped watching.

I didn’t expect easy nights with this kid. Just like I don’t expect easy nights with mine. Nights are too tempting to bad dreams and wet beds and bloody noses and getting sick. Besides, nights are too full of the dark to be easy for any of us.

But I didn’t expect the blessings of hard nights, either. The blessing of having someone there so you can ask if it’s morning yet. The blessing of earning trust by offering a hand. The blessing of keeping the vigil for the morning together. The blessing of knowing the light is coming, even though we always seem to fall asleep on our watch.

As much as we all want easy nights – to never have to be awake to fight the dark or ourselves – we don’t get to have as many as we’d like. And so my greatest wish for us is that we’d find a hand to hold in our darknesses. To know the Light is coming. And that we’re not alone while we wait.



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26 responses to “Holding Hands in the Dark”

  1. Oh my, this made me misty eyed with nostalgia. My 13 and 10 year old kiddos still come to my bed and snuggle close when they have a bad night. They don’t do it nearly as often anymore, in fact, not in the last six months at all (I guess that means I can’t say the still come to my bed… anyhoo…). I loved always knowing they trusted me to get through the night. I miss the hands wrapped around mine, the heads resting against my neck. I’ve always told them, never hesitate to call for me, knock on the wall, scream, or come into my room if they need me.

    When I was younger I would get scared at night and prank call our own house (remember doing that? Dialing your own number and hanging up really quick so it would ring?) so that it would wake my mom up and she would get up and use the bathroom. I knew, when she got up, that I wasn’t alone, that the night wasn’t as scary as I thought because my mom was able to get out of bed and wasn’t afraid to move in the dark like I was. I was 16… and still needed that help through the night.

    In earlier years, I’d flip my bedside light on and off really fast so I could make sure there wasn’t something wicked in the room with me.

    Now, when I need someone in the middle of the night, I grab a book. My dear husband, as well meaning as he is, never fully wakes up in the middle of the night. And waking the kids up when they are sleeping so beautifully just seems wrong. But a book? It’s always there, right beside my bed. And now that I’m an adult, I can turn the bedroom light on and LEAVE it on.

    But when they do need me, and it could still happen, I’m joyous. The warm sleepy body, the trusting embrace… the memory that I used to have the same fears (and still do sometimes) and knowing I’m now the safe harbor… More comfort that I can every describe.

  2. I love this post, and your series on grace. I thought of you today, when I came REALLY close to getting REALLY angry with my husband over something REALLY dumb, and totally ruining the rest of the day for both of us. The word grace just popped into my head, and I thought about the words you’ve written, and how I too want to live in a world where people extend grace to one another. And somehow, miraculously, I just wasn’t angry any more.

  3. This is precious, Beth. I’m really enjoying your “Grace” posts. We have eight kids and what you usually post about really hits home.

  4. My struggle is with anxiety, not depression (even though they are bedfellows so often), but oh, yes, the blessing of a hand to hold in the dark. I hope you know how often your beautiful truths are just the hand I and so many of your readers need. Thank you!

  5. I’m usually a lurker, but I have to comment on this one, because just Yes.

    I’m a single mom raising a very rambunctious, snuggly little 14 month old who still needs some serious hand holding and snuggling to sleep – and lets be honest, some day he won’t let me do that, so I cherish it while I can (even at 3am).

    But oh just Yes about the hard nights and needing a hand to hold. After a serious, serious battle with depression for my entire life – literally as long as I can remember – opening up to friends in college and having people who offered to sit and wait for morning with me, just to let me know that the Light was coming was a lifesaver. And being a single mom I don’t have a hand in the darkness to hold now (unless it’s after 1 am and my little guy is in the bed with me, lol) and it is something I miss. But then I read your posts and think, “Oh hey, these are my people. There are others out there right now with cranky, non-sleeping babies, and I am really not alone.” So thank you from the bottom of this very tired momma’s heart, Beth, for reminding all of us that we are not alone, no matter how dark it is.

  6. What a moving post. I suddenly remembered that exact feeling of loneliness in the middle of the night as a child staying with friends. You captured it perfectly.

    And this: “And so my greatest wish for us is that we’d find a hand to hold in our darknesses. To know the Light is coming. And that we’re not alone while we wait.”

    I’ll hold that in my heart for a while. Thank you.

  7. Thanks, Beth. Sometimes I still need a hand to hold in the dark, and when it’s not there I remember when it was, and one comes to me as light through the darkness, and I make it to another day having forgotten the night. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. My youngest, 10, also is a hand-holder. When he first came home (and for the next 4 years!), he could not fall asleep without physical contact with someone else. Then for the next 4 years, he needed to at least be able to see someone else, but still preferred touch. (Thank heavens for an older brother who cooperated…at least most of the time.) Now he still panics when the room is too dark.

    The blessings of hard nights: snuggles that developed trust with new parents, bonding with brother, extra kisses of reassurance. Thank you for reminding me that these are things to be appreciated and treasured.

  9. My baby – who’s 9 now, still needs to hold hands in the dark. More nights than not. And I love to do it. Maybe because no one was there in the dark of her baby nights in the orphanage, maybe that’s just how we roll here.

    Beautiful piece.

  10. The truth in this…

    “I didn’t expect easy nights with this kid. Just like I don’t expect easy nights with mine. Nights are too tempting to bad dreams and wet beds and bloody noses and getting sick. Besides, nights are too full of the dark to be easy for any of us.”

    and this:

    “But I didn’t expect the blessings of hard nights, either…The blessing of knowing the light is coming, even though we always seem to fall asleep on our watch.”

  11. Absolutely wonderful, a life truth stated with such simplicity and beauty. We are indeed blessed to have each other to share the darkness knowing the light is on the way :). Thank you for sharing your gift with the world.

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