Monday, May 26, 2008

On Hands

I have always noticed hands. I tend to form my opinions of people based on their hands before any other aspect of their appearances. People's hands tell very honest stories of who they are and what they do if you look closely at the posture, skin and nails.

I've always been proud of my hands. I love the shape of my fingers and wrists, and my nails that look long even when cut short. They have often given me problems--I tend to carry a lot of tension in my wrists and hands, particularly when I'm playing instruments and typing, and as a result I've had problems with RSIs and inflammatory arthritis off and on since jr. high.

I remember being ashamed of my hands for the only time in my life when I was working part time at the book bindery. My hands became covered in cuts and scratches, callouses, and scars. They were often so dirty that I couldn't scrub them clean no matter how hard I tried. Not that I'm ashamed of working with my hands, per se, but it was like a visual marker of work that I forced to do because of the challenging circumstances of my life at the time.

I enjoy looking at the hands of people who work hard building or creating things. There is a long line of carpenters in my family, a trade that routinely leaves fingers scarred and damaged. There are many trades that leave the legacy of all the things built on the hands of people who built them.

The delicate callouses particular to musicians are unique and interesting. They are accompanied by finely honed technique and skill, and a sensitivity of touch special to each instrument. They can be worn with pride, and they are symbols of years of dedication and hard work.

I remember my Grandma Bert's hands vividly. Her skin was so fine that it was almost transparent, and even the slightest bump would leave her with horrible dark bruises. You could see her veins and the small brown sun spots that covered them from too many years of gardening without sunscreen. She had long fingers like me with deeply ridged nails and tendons that stood out across her knuckles. There is no surer sign of an aging body to me than hands that have lost the ability to hold, write and express.

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