Holding on…

I recently watched a fascinating documentary by Ken Burns on the life of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). In it Burns details the life of both FDR and his wife Eleanor in the backdrop of The Great Depression. I found one specific part especially enlightening and thought-provoking. We are all now aware that FDR was confined to a wheelchair, however this was not public knowledge during his presidency. In fact, FDR would try to hide any trace of his disability. In photos in which he was standing, there was always something or someone holding him up. I had to see for myself, and sure enough when I googled “FDR photos standing”—the first 10 images (like this one) showed him either leaning against something or him holding on to someone else.[1] What’s more mind boggling is the fact that Americans and some world leaders did not know of FDR’s need for a wheelchair.[2]


FDR- notice that he is leaning against the wall
FDR- notice that he is leaning against the wall
FDR- it's subtle but he is holding on to the gentleman next to him
FDR- it’s subtle but he is holding on to the gentleman next to him

The reason I bring this up is that I often find myself holding on to anything nearby when I stand in any public situation. This could be something as discreet as a nearby chair to something more obvious like a wall. You may wonder do you hold on when not in public? The answer to this has two-fold: 1. When I am at home with family, I rarely stand for a prolonged period of time, and 2. A loss of balance or fall in front of people outside of my family would be embarrassing, thus I do try and prevent this in any social situation.

Holding onto something provides me more mental security than actual physical support. I wouldn’t fall if that chair weren’t there to hang onto. This is akin to the concept of insurance. Most of us will purchase insurance but never use it. But in the rare case of the catastrophic event, we are comforted that we have it. Insurance plays to one of our strongest emotions: fear. Fear, that we will fall ill suddenly and critically, fear that a collision will destroy our car, or perhaps fear that someone will steal our valuable belongings. Holding on, like insurance, provides me with the peace of mind that something is there if I were to fall.

We all have our random objects that we hold onto, for me this just happens to be a literal object: for you this could be the $20 knee brace you bought because it was on TV or the $1500 electric generator you have in case there is a power outage. I hold onto a literal object for insurance: a chair, a table, or a wall. I imagine and hope that as the days and months pass, I’ll find myself holding on with less frequency, and free to let go.

[1] There is one photo from his early days before he was stricken with polio.

[2] Gunther, John (1950). Roosevelt in Retrospect. Harper & Brothers.

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