Fingernails speckled in neon pink move up and down as my daughter shapes her masterpiece. Her fingers push and pull against the lumps of dough on the table in front of her. Later in the day she’ll use those same hands to grasp a crayon and turn the simple tubes of wax into dolphins, houses, and exotic creatures.
Throughout history hands have always captivated us. Their gestures can be seen across Egyptian hieroglyphics or as a blank canvas for the intricate patterns of henna dye. People even earned their livelihoods staring at the lines of a hand, as they examined their turns and gaps to perceive a hint of what the future may hold for their owner. The Victorian era esteemed hands so much they molded their image into vases, cups, and jewelry to adorn their necks. It was believed hands showed one’s character or a deeper insight into their life. In some way it was true- hands revealed their owner’s identity-and even chained them to their social status. The rough, tanned palms of a peasant could never pass for the white, gloved hands of a nobleman.
These days we use them to show our immortality. We butter them with creams and try to pretend we’re immune to the pull of the earth. We grasp weights to show our own strength and fortitude. We swipe them across screens searching for friendship, distraction, or the elusive fifteen minutes of fame. Could the 140 characters we push change the lot we’ve been dealt? We think we grasp at immortality, but in reality each swipe serves us another cheap hit to numb the pain.
Still, I look at my hands, and I gaze at their crevices and wrinkles. I follow the lines in my veins as the loosening skin pulls to either side of them. Maybe they can’t give us immortality or predict our future, but these hands tell a story. Not of our future, but more clearly it’s a story of our present. A story of the mixed-up world our tiny little hands enter into, and the same world they will leave years later, wrinkled and worn.
The little hands of my daughter waste no time in discovering this world’s reality. Her tiny fingers grip tight with every echo of thunder and warn her of the danger of the world she steps into. The shove of a brother reveals just a piece of the destruction she can wield. Her cries over empty hands longing a cookie are just a taste of the dreams they may never hold and the people they will one day no longer touch.
Slowly but surely, our hands reveal the curse that seeps through our world. They speak of a world marked by difficulty, pain, and by scars that won’t fade away. They whisper of nights clenched in prayer, of slammed doors, and final goodbyes. Hands that reach for the pill bottle each morning remind ourselves this is not as it should be. I am not as I should be.
Yet intertwined in each curve are glimpses of beauty. For every fist clenched in the pain of labor, bursts the touch of a new life. Hands aching in emptiness find themselves caught tight in the grip of a friend. It’s through these fingers beautiful words were written, art created, gardens cultivated, and bread broken together. Somewhere between the thousand laces tied and endless turns of a key our hands served a family, helped a neighbor, and comforted a friend. They speak of a lifetime of learning, fruitful work, or promises kept for better or worse.
In these fingers in front of us, we see a reflection of our world. The beautiful sits next to the broken. Inseparable just as the wrinkles and scars of our hand can’t be smoothed. Despite the beauty, the curse that permeates from the inside out will not yet leave these fingertips.
And so we keep using them. We button our shirts, we brush our hair, and we turn off our light before bed. Until one day we will stop, and we will take hold of the hands we’ve only dreamed of.
These hands clutched his mother’s just like ours. They held friends, enveloped children, and broke bread. And just as our own, his hands felt the toil of work, wiped tears from his eyes, and gripped together tight in agonizing prayer. The hands that told the story of our own reality were the same hands that changed reality. One day we’ll take hold of these hands and get to touch the deep scars that are the only thing that gives life, beauty, and hope to our own tattered hands.