A couple of days ago, I found myself with some time on my hands, and I started watching the movie "Cast Away" on TV.
It's been a dozen years since I saw that movie, but I could still remember the compelling storyline, some extraordinary special effects, terrific on-screen support from a blood-stained volleyball and a remarkable performance by Tom Hanks.
But mostly I remember holding hands with Beth.
We went to see the film as a family, which is why I wasn't sitting by my wife, Anita. We had learned — the hard way — that keeping then-11-year-old Beth and her 9-year-old brother, Jon, away from each other was the best way to keep them from killing each other in the darkened theater.
It wasn't that they fought all the time; it's just that we never knew when a fight was going to erupt. So we sat between them, and hoped they wouldn't figure out how to launch Milk Duds at each other over the top of us.
Just a few minutes into the movie — and I hope I'm not spoiling this for anyone — there's a frighteningly realistic plane crash. In fact, it was a little too frightening and a little too realistic for Beth's tastes.
She leaned up against me, her head pressed against my shoulder, and reached over and took my hand, squeezing it tightly.
"It's OK, Sweetie," I said. "Remember, it's only a movie. Just close your eyes, and pretty soon it'll all be over."
And pretty soon it was. Within a few minutes, the scary part was over for Beth and she was sitting up in her seat, happily independent, her hands busy with popcorn and soda.
It wasn't long, however, before another scary part came along. Only this wasn't a scary part for Beth — this was a scary part for me. For as long as I can remember, I've been claustrophobic.
You want to scare me to death? Put me in a crowded elevator — and then make it stop. So when Tom Hanks started exploring that cave, I started cowering in my seat. Heart pounding. Palms sweating. Afraid to look — afraid not to. And I'm thinking, "If there are any spiders or snakes in this cave, I'm outta here."
Suddenly, I felt a hand reaching out in the darkness — a calm, steady 11-year-old hand, albeit slightly seasoned with salt and butter-flavored topping. It grabbed onto my hand firmly, squeezing reassuringly, as Beth again leaned up against me, her head again pressed against my shoulder.
"It's OK, Daddy," she said. "Remember, it's only a movie. Just close your eyes, and pretty soon it'll all be over."
And pretty soon it was. Only this time, I didn't let go of Beth's hand after the scary part was over, and she didn't let go of mine.
We just sat there through the rest of the movie, holding onto each other and helping each other through the film's subsequent ups and downs.
That's how Beth and I made it through "Cast Away." We're doing the same thing now, 12 years later, as she nervously approaches the birth of her first child, sometime during the next few weeks. Lots of hugging and hand-holding and "It's going to be OKs."
And it occurs to me that that's how we all make it through life, too. Although we like to think of ourselves as happily independent and self-reliant, when the scary parts of life come — as they always do, eventually — it's comforting to be able to lean against family and friends, to hear their reassurance that everything is going to be OK, and to reach out in the darkness to find a calm, reassuring hand.
With or without the butter-flavored topping.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com.