A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker



Years from now, when I remember the movie "Cast Away," I will remember a compelling storyline, some extraordinary special effects and a remarkable performance by Tom Hanks.

But mostly, Iíll remember holding hands with Elizabeth.

We went to see the film as a family, which is why I wasnít sitting by my wife, Anita. We have found that keeping 11-year-old Elizabeth and her 9-year-old brother, Jon, away from each other is the best way to keep them from killing each other in the dark. It isnít that they fight all the time; itís just that we never know when a fight is going to erupt. So we sit between them, and hope they never figure out how to launch Milk Duds at each other over the top of us.

Just a few minutes into the movie Ė and I hope Iím not spoiling this for anyone Ė thereís a frighteningly realistic plane crash. In fact, it was a little too frightening and a little too realistic for Elizabethís tastes. She leaned up against me, her head pressed against my shoulder, and reached over and took my hand, squeezing it tightly.

"Itís OK, Sweetie," I said. "Remember, itís only a movie. Just close your eyes, and pretty soon itíll all be over."

And pretty soon it was. Within a few minutes the scary part was over for Elizabeth, and she was sitting up in her seat, happily independent, her hands busy with popcorn and soda.

It wasnít long, however, before another scary part came along. Only this wasnít a scary part for Elizabeth Ė this was a scary part for me. For as long as I can remember, Iíve been claustrophobic. You want to scare me to death? Put me in a crowded elevator Ė 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 Ė afraid not to. And Iím thinking, "If there are any spiders or snakes in this cave, Iím outta here."

Suddenly I felt a hand reaching out in the darkness Ė 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 Elizabeth again leaned up against me, her head again pressed against my shoulder.

"Itís OK, Daddy," she said. "Remember, itís only a movie. Just close your eyes, and pretty soon itíll all be over."

And pretty soon it was. Only this time, I didnít let go of Elizabethís hand after the scary part was over, and she didnít let go of mine. We just sat there through the rest of the movie, holding onto each other and helping each other through the filmís subsequent ups and downs.

Thatís how Elizabeth and I made it through "Cast Away." And it occurs to me that thatís 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 Ė as they always do, eventually Ė itís comforting to be able to lean against family and friends, to hear their reassurance that itís OK, and to reach out in the darkness to find a calm, reassuring hand.

With or without the butter-flavored topping.

# # #

--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and