Hands…The Dangling Strength That Hangs From Our Arms…

Hands.  Although hardly pretty, I’ve really come to love my hands.  They’re the outward representation of my spirit and in their lined palms, they have held all that I’ve loved, lost, hated, feared, created and comforted. They even hold the scar from a mishap with a tomato can lid while I was pregnant with Emery and trying to precook meals in anticipation of her arrival.  I was told, after my 10 stitches to the palm, that I’d never be able to get an accurate palm reading on that hand as there’s an extra line.  Maybe that tomato can lid added something to my life by adding the line – at least that’s the theory I’m going with.

My sister, Susan, told me that she had a yoga teacher once ask the class to look at their hands deeply enough that they almost seemed separate from the rest of their body and think about what they’ve done in your lifetime.  I had never really done that before and became rather obsessed with the idea of my hands.  Sure, the other parts of my body have also been along for the ride,  but it is the hands, the very visible hands,  that have created,  destroyed, cradled, protected and applauded their way through this life.

Susan told me that during the process of thinking about her hands, she thought about other hands and which pairs she would recognize.  She told me she would recognize my hands easily and wondered, would I be able recognize my own children’s hands out of a group of several?

“Of course I would!!!”  (this definitive YES is in no way trying to neutralize my confession in an early post of not recognizing my own new born in the hospital…)

But I later wondered…. would I?

Somehow hearing that Susan would recognize my hands gave me a deep sense of comfort.  She said they were hard working hands.  She’s right. My hands have always felt right at home digging in the dirt.  I know there are tools for that, and they do help me get the job started, but when it comes to placing a new plant into the earth I want to have full on skin to dirt contact.  That being said, I’ve entered into the season of perpetually dirty nails that do not know their way around a nail salon and quite honestly, kind of feel like they don’t belong.  With garden centers, on the other hand,  I’m full in.

While thinking about hands, I couldn’t help but think back to a few years ago and the volunteer work I did in Perú at a center for the poor elderly.  One of the activities I chose one day was to give manicures to any of the women who wanted them. Much to my surprise, almost all of them did, creating a bit of a frenzy at the small “station” I had set up.  I had danced with these women, chatted with them in their homes,  played games with them, but my favorite, by far, were the manicures.  There was a real intimacy in holding their hand, while painting their nails and like little girls, they were in awe of the process, watching carefully and boldly pointing out to me when my little brush painted outside of the nail line.

These hands made my hands look pampered and delicate.  THESE were working hands and just like Madge on the Palmolive commercial, I had all the waiting hands soaking in soapy water.  I told them it was to soften the nail so I could cut them, but in reality it was simply to clean them up a bit as most were filthy. Again, these were working hands.

One of my favorites, Maria Rivera, waited patiently in line and finally took her spot as my last customer.  She had the hands that needed the most work.  Her fingers were bent with arthritis and her nails thick and dirty and terribly ignored.  She had definite ideas as to how she wanted them to look – cut short, painted bright pink and made to look pretty.

“Bonita y rosada por favor.”

I did the best I could to make them not only bright pink, but well manicured and far cleaner than what she started with.  She seemed pleased.  As I held her hand in mine and tried  to file the nails down to a respectable length (they were far too hard to cut), I couldn’t help but think about what Susan had told me about hands.  As I worked my way across the nail of each of her short, thick fingers, I thought about the history I had been told about her, specifically how her own son had tried to strangle her.  Were these  hands that I was holding the same ones that pulled her own son’s hands off of her neck while trying to save her own life?  What else had these very strong hands done to protect the body that they dangled from?  No doubt there were many stories and I wanted to sit back and hear all of them while I held her fight, her strength and her integrity in my own hands.  These same hands, that were her protectors, still honored her vanity and drew perfectly arched brows over sad brown eyes, and placed a gold hat that looked like a half-popped jiffy pop container on top of her neatly coiffed hair every morning before coming to Los Martincitos.

Me and Maria Rivera

I felt honored to feel such intimacy with these women while working on their nails and making them pretty and pink.  The task at hand was the manicure, but I felt like I gained far more than what I gave.  The simple pleasure of being with these beautiful hard-working women who had experienced so much hardship in their lives, one at a time, while holding their hands and letting its energy mingle with my own was a gift.

Amelia… far prouder than she’d let on…
Petronila de Leon’s nails… pretty in pink!


These hands looked a whole lot different 24 hours later…

Besides the fact that the polish was old and sticky and the women insisted on sitting right next to me rather than across from me, which made for awkward angles, plus having to work under the frustration of swarms of flies (I later discovered that directly on the other side of the wall we were sitting in front of was a garbage dump), it has become one of my most treasured memories of my time in Perú.

My own hands, the same that so often had been told to put it down, leave it alone and stop picking at it, followed the rest of myself into a nail salon for a manicure the day before my son, Thomas’ wedding last year.  After the nail tech brought out the third wrong shade of pink,  I had to leave because I started crying.  Yes, crying. That’s not a typo.  When I got home my other son, Grant, asked me if I got my hands all fixed up (boy speak for manicure) and I told him no that I had to leave because I started crying.  He said nothing for a few seconds then responded with:

“You’re not ready for him to get married, are you?”

“No.  He’s still 9 years old… or so it seems.”

Clearly this was not about the wedding, but rather was about my having to face, full on, the passage of time, which felt a whole lot faster than was comfortable.

It’s easier for me to be more accepting of my stubby fingers with rough cuticles and often less than perfectly manicured nails when I think of what these hands have done for me.  The small hands they’ve held while crossing the street, the plants they’ve placed with hope into the dirt and the weeds they’ve pulled out in frustration,  the family dog that they held while he was being put to sleep and the tears they wiped away for so many days that followed, the babies they’ve held, the stories they’ve typed.  I love them in all of their flawed imperfection as they represent my history, my life and my spirit in full view.   How can that not evoke a crazy sense of pride of ownership…dirty nails and all?

The End.


3 thoughts on “Hands…The Dangling Strength That Hangs From Our Arms…”

  1. Lovely, elegant and true. Thanks for making me look at my hands in such a different light. The first thought that came into my head when trying to think of anything big or memorable that my hands had done was the memory of my Grandfather. He held my little hand so many times when I was a child. I have a distinct memory of his being very thick, wide and tough. I happened to be the one sitting with him very late at night in the hospital when he drew his last breath and mine was the last touch he felt, the last hand he held. Our hands connect us to so many people and so many precious memories. Thanks for a new perspective.

  2. What a beautiful memory of your Grandfather, Sherry and so well articulated. Thanks for sharing such a personal memory. It is interesting to think of the connections we've made (and broken) with our hands, isn't it?

  3. It's a very thought provoking idea, what my hands have done. The little faces I've held to kiss, the times as a child I hit my brothers or sisters, raising my hand in school to get answers or to volunteer. Crossing my heart to say the pledge of allegiance, waving hello and goodbye, wiping away tears, mine and others. The many, many times I've held peoples hands in prayer. Love your blog girl, keep it up, I love your writing and your thought processes!

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