There is the scar from the time I wouldn’t listen to my mother and leave the stray cat, Tony, alone, and he scratched my right hand as I tried to sneak up on him to pet him. There’s the chicken pox scar from the time I wouldn’t listen to my mother when she said not to pick at my itchy pox or they would open up and leave permanent marks.
There’s my right thumb, which has developed my Dad’s arthritis, and if I hit it the wrong way, I see stars. There’s the length of my fingers, “piano fingers”, as my father called them, which my daughter inherited from me, or really from her grandfather. I study my fingernails, uneven, dry, unpolished. I think the last manicure I had was the day before my wedding. I examine the little sunspots (age spots?) that my kids will tell you are beauty marks.
My hands have performed much service over the last decade since I had my kids and lost my mom. Cleaning, feeding, changing diapers, lifting, pulling, carrying, praying. Praying. How many times have I folded these hands in prayer, sometimes so tight that they were white knuckled? How many times have I pressed the fingers to my eyes, trying to hold in ill-timed tears that threatened to fall?
On my left hand is my wedding set, the square diamond set in the beautiful platinum band, the same one the love of my life placed on my finger so many years ago, and the wedding ring, an elegant platinum circle, representing our infinite commitment.
The power of touch is well known. The value of it to someone who considers him or herself “untouchable” is tremendous.
I remember living in New York and walking through Manhattan, stopping to talk to the homeless who asked for money or cigarettes or sandwiches or whatever they could get. I can’t tell you how many times I saw the eyes of one of these people fill up simply because I held their hands. It troubles me that today some folks would pet an unknown stray dog or cat but would be afraid or disgusted to touch a homeless person. This is patently backward.
My hands have cataloged all of this, and my heart, too. I’ve learned that, yes, I feel more complete when I am serving others, even if not my giddiest. There was a lot more “fun” in playing skeeball as a kid with these hands than there is in wiping up the floor on my knees for the twelfth time today.
But fun is not why I’m alive. What an empty life that would be if I were only here to BE served, to take with these hands, to have them pampered and unscarred, to avoid getting them in the mix with all the other hands and stories out there.
I look at my daughter’s hands, how perfect they are, and I wonder what is ahead for them. What marks will they collect? What tale will they tell? How long will I be given to hold her hand in mine? Will she always use her hands for good, for service of her younger brother and for all her fellow man?
I watch her hands, graceful in ballet, capable in playing the large unwieldy trombone, purposeful and exacting as she draws or paints. I watch her tenderly place a chaplet around her hand and fingers before she falls asleep at night. God, please help me teach her that through prayer she will be able to draw the strength from you to fulfill her vocation.
The older I get, the more I fold these hands to pray for souls — mine and others’. We are really here for such a short time — our aging hands and bodies, eyes and hair , they are all signs of that. These bodies are not designed for permanence.
The permanent things can’t be seen in a mirror. The permanent things are the intentions and adventures, the stories and emotions behind the dents and scratches on the surface. This is what time does to the body. What it does to the soul is, if we use time the way it was designed to be used, make it ready and beautiful, so it is fit to be seen by its author, to be touched once again by the divine hands of the One who formed it.