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Monday, June 20, 2011

These Hands

My hands have served me well and continue to do so. But they are stiff and are becoming gnarled and enlarged. I have one that holds my witch's finger, so bent at the knuckle. Arthritis, I'm told. I'll just have to live with it. The pain is manageable, just annoying. Mild medication helps if I need them to be reliable and not give out on me, not feel like shattering glass if I bump them. On an otherwise strong and healthy body, these hands, which were once my strength, are becoming my weakness.

These hands are my history.

These hands let me play as a child, turn my jump rope, dress my dolls, toss knuckle bones and jacks. They have grasped the chains of the swing that carried me high so I could leap off into the sand below, my hands cushioning the fall. They climbed trees and shinnied up a playground pole. They landed on the hard gravel from a wobbly bicycle and brushed off my torn knees. My hands knew only blissful childhood freedom.

Before computers, when all had to be written in a neat schoolgirl hand, my right middle finger developed a large calloused bump from the pressure of the pen. These hands have felt the heft of many books.

These hands have always wanted to work. They have hauled heavy loads. They have shoveled driveways and skating rinks, dug deeply into garden dirt, planted flowers, vegetables and trees; they have pulled millions of weeds, raked and mowed lawns, pruned trees. They have carried and stacked huge piles of wood for winter burning, then rubbed sore backs. They have been speckled with paint and have assembled and taken apart many things. They have knitted sweaters, socks, toys, blankets; they have sewn a multitude of small clothes. They have hauled and sorted seemingly limitless bags of used clothes for charity work.

They have held and been held. They have gripped in ecstasy.

These hands have held four babies at the breast, mourning a lost fifth. They have dressed small children, changed diapers, built tall block towers, laced skates, lifted small bodies. They have taught the three R's. They learned to do many things at once during busy years. They have cuddled and stroked while holding the story book. They have comforted one while wagging admonishment at another, and sometimes, regrettably, they have smacked a small bottom.  They have cooked countless meals, washed dishes, floors and windows, and enough clothes, bedding and diapers to make a mountain. They have cut wispy hair and twisted many braids; they have bathed and towelled dry little people. They have bandaged injured elbows and knees, then wiped away tears. They have nursed through many a night of sickness. They have carried the heavy belongings of now grown children into new lives.

They have trained four cats (not well) and two dogs (more successfully). They have sunk into soft fur.

These hands have helped me glide across the river during solitary swims. They have gripped bicycle handlebars and ski poles and racquets, lifted weights, stretched in yoga and Tai Chi, thrown a crooked bowling ball, slugged a baseball bat, bounced on a trampoline with joyful children. They have laced my own skates as well as those of smaller feet.

As adult hands, they learned to drive, to shift the gears of the car and of life.  They learned the new technologies, at least a little bit, allowing me to write, to listen to music in my own little space, to learn about the world and stay connected to it.

Untalented hands that recognize and appreciate talent in others, they have applauded loudly and enthusiastically.

These hands have clasped and consoled the hands of the dying.

They have loved, comforted, shaken in anger, caressed in tenderness and passion. They have held my tearful face and that of my husband; they have pounded the floor; they have railed at God; they have been pressed together in prayer, gratitude and submission. They have held my stricken husband and calmed his terror. They have steadied his lurching Parkinson's body, lifted him from the floor when he falls, propelled him in a wheelchair when he finally submits. They have cleaned him in ways I thought I'd only have to do for my children. They have bathed him, dressed him and tied his shoes and skates. They now attend to his every need.

These hands are tired, in need of rest. But I fear the cessation of busyness. I fear they will seize up completely when no longer needed.

I would rather endure the pain.

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