It’s another Sunday morning when I feel I need to write about the latest violence. The new roof going on this week, the windows to be washed, the lingering autumn, the debts to be settled, all seem insignificant and petty. A week ago my decaying roof was not petty; it was an emergency. Different perception these last few days.
Yesterday was the memorial service for a friend, John, who was taken suddenly and shockingly. A simple medical procedure, turned ravaging infection, turned goodbye. Though he left us several weeks ago, i’m still having a hard time believing he’s gone. His spirit was that big. His heart and generosity and insight penetrated deep. He lived only two days after the infection set in. I can see him still, sitting on the porch, book in hand, soft smile, gentle wave, as he reaches down to pat his dog.
In a writing workshop, we wrote about hands. I thought about John’s hands, patting his dog, turning the pages, waving slightly, warmly embracing, firmly shaking. He was a writer, a thinker, a facilitator, a healer. He emulated kindness and exuded goodness. His warmth could be felt from a distance. I wondered what I really knew about his hands. Where had they been? What pain and injuries had they seen? What healing touch had they received, then turned to give to others?
What a unique tool we have in our hands. What an extension of our hearts. In May when I drove most of the night to get to my conference, I slipped into the bed I was sharing with a friend. I tried to be silent so as not to disturb. I curled into a ball facing the wall and her hand reached over and patted me twice on the shoulder. It said, “We’re glad you made it. Glad you’re safe. We care.” Two pats with a caring hand and I could relax into the warmth of friendship. Powerful tools.
At mass this morning I watched as people folded their hands in prayer, held them out to each other in a sign of peace, stroked the cheek of a child. Loving hands from loving hearts. And I thought about hands that can decapitate, pull a trigger, throw a bomb. What must those hearts be made of? What pain and suffering have they endured to enable those hands in that regard? And the hands that reach in to help the wounded, carry them to safety, grasp at life–––what hearts do those come from? What courage in those hearts?
The wife and daughter sit aside the bed, holding the hands that loved them. Their hearts break as the life slips away. They are grateful to be there, for those hands to hold.
Our hands constantly remind us of our humanity. We expose them to the world, acceptable in every culture. The roofer has scars from nails and hammers. The masseuse’s hands are strong and sure, their skin soft from oil. The writer’s hands know many stories that escape one by one, across a page or screen.
On that fateful train trip last April, this kind stranger asked what I missed most about being married. I answered with three things. One was dancing. The second was holding hands. To me, holding hands is the most loving of connections. We hold our children’s hands to keep them safe, and our lover’s hands to keep them close. Our hearts connect and we feel secure.