The day we all held hands

I REMEMBER the heat that day, the day we held hands. We left Coronado's cool loveliness early in the morning and drove northeast to our ``designated meeting spot'' on a side road parallel to Highway 10 stretching toward the East Coast. We were on our way to be part of Hands Across America, a nationwide effort to raise money for the hungry and homeless and a demonstration of peace and goodwill reaching from the Pacific to the Atlantic. By 10 o'clock it was hot. We had almost an hour of driving to go before time to take our place in line and form the human link across the California desert. There was traffic on the freeway, but it thinned out when we turned off on the county road. We thought we were lost. Then, suddenly, the traffic got heavy again and we knew we were on the right track. A few more miles, one more turn, and we were there.

The road was jammed with people on foot and on wheels. Some were already standing in line. Others were trying to get where they were supposed to be. People were arriving on foot as well as in cars, trucks, buses, and on bikes. There were people like us and unlike us. Each race, color, age group, and hair style was represented.

It was a cross section of America, the land of the caring. We had many differences, but one thing in common. We cared about peace. We cared enough to do our very best to give the world this evidence of our feelings.

It got hotter and more crowded as we drew closer to our spot in the line. There were miles of volunteers along the way, smiling, joyful, directing traffic, helping people find their places, welcoming and thanking us for coming. The excitement was contagious. Before long we felt it more than the heat. We felt the radiating warmth of ordinary Americans about to hold hands.

We parked our van, took one last drink of water, put on sunglasses and headgear, and handed a volunteer the slip of paper with our names and location. She suggested we take our places because it was almost time. Time meant the moment we were to take one another's hands, connect the line and hold it for ... 15 minutes]

We stepped around people, past folded chairs, food baskets, coolers, beach umbrellas, each an oasis of participants in this Day. Radios were broadcasting reports from across the USA. Some states had huge turnouts. Others, like ours, had long deserts to cover and were stretched thin.

We walked until we found a gap in the line and filled it. With our arms outstretched we made up at least eight feet of the human link. We shook hands with our neighbors on both sides and tested grips with them. We were ready.

Last-minute arrivals hurried to fill in gaps. The radios began playing a theme song. Volunteers started the countdown. Everyone joined in as we reached out, fingers touching, stretching, linking hands.

``Ten, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. This is it!'' As far as we could see in either direction, the line was intact.

We cheered and smiled and sang. Then the line began to wave. We stretched even farther. Our arms ached, but we didn't let go. We were unwilling for the moment to end. Hands Across America. We were doing it!

After it was over, there were hugs and handshakes up and down the line. We got back in our van and formed another line, this time of cars, buses, trucks, and bikes heading home. We inched along, reaching out to hold hands with people going in the opposite direction. It was almost an hour before the traffic jam cleared, an hour of celebrating what we had done and our reason for doing it.

The sun was straight up by then and the heat must have been intense. Somehow it felt good. It has become the symbol of the human warmth we had witnessed, had driven miles to share.

I'll always remember the heat that day and that we were a part of the warmth. Hands Across America. The day we held hands.

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