Last week I had a manicure before leaving town. While each finger was polished with French tips, I thought about how much I love my hands. The painter Georgia O’Keeffe had beautiful hands, and her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, photographed them for the world to appreciate. My hands are not particularly beautiful. If I hold them out straight, the long, thin fingers on the left curve a little west and the ones on the right curve a little east. I have small hands, like a child’s. My sister teases that when I am very old, they will be as dry and bony as a sparrow’s clawed feet, and I know that she is right.
Still, I love my hands, for what they do. My hands can start an IV, or deftly place a needle into a chest port. They expertly wrap wounds or cool a fevered brow. My hands can press a chest to keep the heart within it beating so well that a physician once remarked during a code, “It is too bad that a life can not be saved by perfect blood gas results alone, because this patient is receiving superb CPR.” With a pencil or brush, my hands can capture the likeness of a face on paper, or sculpt a figure out of clay. I have hands that work for a living. They are tools of expression.
The next day, my fingers with the beautiful French tips, wrap themselves around the twine handles of a bag that hold the ashes of my father, and the same hands carry them to the boat from which my family honors his request to scatter them on the sea. My hands trembled a little as I read the eulogy. After I finished, they wiped tears from my eyes. Suddenly, the boat roughly lurched forward. I was thrown off balance and reached out to steady myself, but there was no rail for my hands to grasp. My brother’s strong hands reached out for me, pulling me to safety, and held me close. “I’ve got you, I’ve got you, you’re not going overboard,” he spoke into my ear, as I cried into his chest.
The most important thing about anyone’s hands is their ability to hold.