Just Hold Me
By Don Staheli

One of the great western dramas is a wonderful film entitled Shane, starring Alan Ladd as a handsome, charming gunfighter in hopes of finding a life without violence. This was not an easy task in the wild west of Hollywood. The results are quite predictable, but the story makes for a good movie anyway.

Running almost unnoticed in the story is an interesting subplot regarding Shane and the wife of the homesteader for whom he is working. Shane seems to be a source of some fascination for the woman, who has very little excitement in her life of toil and hardship. Her down-to-earth and faithful character is somewhat compromised for a time as she allows her feelings to wander and develops a little crush on the alluring stranger.

In one scene, she and Shane are alone in the main room of the cabin. Her husband and son have gone off to prepare for bed. She stands close to Shane, who is seated at the table, and they share a tender moment. Just then the boy calls, and the woman leaves the room with the expectation of a quick return. When she comes back, Shane has left, and the distracted farmer’s wife stands gazing dreamily out the doorway after this intriguing man.

Quickly the door of the bedroom opens and the homesteader sees his wife looking at their retreating guest. Somewhat naively, the farmer says to his wife, “What’s the matter, honey?” The good woman turns and almost runs back to reality and the solid safety to be found in the arms of her noble husband. “Hold me,” she implores. “Don’t say anything, just hold me – tight.”

It is easy in the often routine and occasionally dull exercise of everyday life to long for something more exciting and stimulating. Every now and then a person, place, or thing crops up that looks more appealing than that with which we are so familiar. Well-submerged hopes and desires bubble to the surface, and feelings of longing may tug at our hearts: the sports car we have always wanted, the six-figure income that has eluded us, or perhaps even a person other than our spouse who seems to fit the dream mold we created in our youthful mind.

Any of these and many other things can send forth a siren song that lifts us off our feet and into the netherworld of fantasy and spellbinding separation from the mundane reality of regular existence.

There is nothing inherently wrong with hopes and dreams and wishes. They should be pursued to their reasonable ends. But there comes a time in our reverie when it may be vital to turn and almost run to the arms of someone or something real that will bring us back to the ground.

It can be very dangerous to follow our fantasies down a path of thoughtless quest, ignoring the possible consequences of our behavior. Much trauma can be inflicted on ourselves and upon those who see our folly but fail to open our eyes before the painful rude awakening jerks us back to our senses. Sadly, sometimes the damage is so complete that return to former safe havens becomes impossible.

I recall working with a man who was nearly suicidal because of ongoing serious money problems. He was not a bad fellow, but he was understandably failing to make a living selling lawn-care services in snowy January.

We talked about his financial situation and I asked what kind of car he drove. “Oh,” he said with pride, “I drive a beautiful new (such-and-such). It’s just the car I’ve always wanted.” It turned out he was going in the hole each month almost exactly the amount of the payment on his dream car. Meanwhile, his children had a dysfunctional dad and his wife was forced to fend off the bill collectors. He needed grounding.

All too common are the tragic circumstances of good family men and women who tire of the run-of-the-mill, often unheralded work of bringing home the bacon and raising the youngsters who eat it. Like the homesteader’s wife in Shane, they gaze longingly after what appears to be the retreating possibility for a truly happy life.

Then comes the destroyer disguised as the wonderful opportunity they have been waiting for. The chance of a lifetime in a risky business proposition. An investment that’s sure to pay off in a big way. Or, perhaps most dangerous of all, a friend of the opposite gender in whom they can really confide – finally, someone who understands their deepest feelings.

Unwilling to listen to reason or even to the pleadings of anxious loved ones, feet just above the ground, they drift in blissful fantasy, thinking only of their need to finally achieve a “well-deserved” measure of happiness. At such a time they can be so duped by selfish desire that it is nearly impossible to foresee the consequences of this headlong pursuit of what they think they want. Financial ruin is a frequent result. Or a potentially happy family can quickly become a disillusioned former companion and broken-hearted children floating like the wreckage of what started out as an unsinkable vessel.

It is wonderful to see people who have a dream and go for it with passion, confidence, and unwavering determination. Tremendous personal growth and meaningful contribution can be realized by those who are willing to give the extra effort or walk the narrow path that is dictated by their dreams. But the most successful of them also realize that they may be limited by vows and restrained by responsibilities that are not subject to honest abandonment.

One of the great revelations of my life was the powerful realization that I would rarely go wrong if I just listened to my wife. She has been the great grounding influence in my life. We might also turn for guidance to some other trusted person, to the sacred or secular writings of inspiring authors, or simply to a quiet hour of meditative self-appraisal. Each of these can provide an immovable fixed point by which we can navigate. If we do so, certain opportunities may have to be foregone, but we will probably never feel any lasting remorse for the decisions we make.

In the end, Shane rode off into the sunset (actually the sunrise), and the farmer’s wife remained with her devoted companion. She may have wistfully wondered what life would have been like with the man in buckskin, but I believe that when she heard the happy footsteps of her children and shared a moment with her husband as they surveyed the land they had worked so hard to tame, she was brought back to earth and felt the great joy of a wholesome normalcy. What a gift is grounding!

2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.