The human hand is a fascinating part of the body. It’s versatility is impressive, its capability inspiring. Through the hand comes most frequently our sense of touch, an under-appreciated sense at one’s disposal. It is with our hands that we grapple and manipulate the physical world. But that’s not all they can do: counting, signaling, writing, drawing, waving, embracing are all other objectives of the vitalized hand.
When it comes to hands, one of the more universal symbols is that of two hands held together. Such a simple image can, with context and understanding, express so much: the meeting of two new business partners shaking hands for the first time; two young children going hand in hand to play in the park; a man and woman before the altar about to vow their commitment to one another. But there is one avenue of the holding of hands that, while once commonplace, now seems less so: the holding of hands between adult friends.
Perhaps I am biased on this account, but at least between male friends this seems true. There is something uncomfortable about the act: it is something you grow out of, that’s uncouth, that is more proper between two young lovers or a grandparent and grandchild. Yet, this was not always so. Friendship – and in particular male friendship – once featured frequently the bringing of separate hands together in friendship. In Shelob’s Lair, it is natural for Frodo and Sam. Tolkien did not place this moment here with any thought about a sense of weirdness or otherworldliness; in fact, Tolkien probably intended to show with this how Sam has grown from a servant and lesser-status companion of Frodo’s to a true friend and compatriot.
And, for such a simple act, for such a small symbol, there is so much that we can see. There is the physical connection between two separate and individual people. There is the bonding of the hands around one another, an expression of commitment and dedication as long as the grip shall hold. There is the comfort of the warmth and touch of the other as a reminder of not being alone in the time of fear and uncertainty.There is the possibility that such a hand can keep you upright when one should stumble, or raise you again when one should fall.
In short, the holding of hands is an expression of love. But it’s a love that’s perhaps less understood and less recognized in our world today: philia, true friendship, shared purpose and commitment and loyalty to see it through.
There are, sadly, enough memes questioning the relationship between Frodo and Sam to fill one of the vast pits of Shelob’s lair. This inquiry – this application of modern preoccupations and limited understanding of relationships – has long troubled me. Let us instead reflect on Frodo and Sam, on the holding of hands, as Tolkien intended and as is actually present in our tale: as an expression of philia, a symbol of dedication, a loyal bond that may become a lifeline in the darkest of times.
2016’s Reflection: “On Light”
2015’s Reflection: “On Waves, Arachnids, and That Which Haunts Our Steps”