When I was in primary school people would tell my mother I had ‘piano-playing fingers’. Despite this I don’t think anyone would regard my hands as being particularly attractive – especially now that my fingers have become bent, and misshapen. True, in my younger days I could stretch out my long slim fingers … there was never the money for piano lessons, yet at least the slimness of my hands meant that the efforts of boys trying to ‘bone crush’ my hands were in vain!
I used to envy friends whose hands were soft-skinned and ended in well-shaped, carefully manicured nails. Such was the depth of these feelings that my grandparents gave me a beautiful manicure set for my twelfth birthday. I loved it and used it regularly to keep my nails clean and short: long, varnished nails have never suited me.
Mine are capable hands; strong hands; working hands. I used to help my brothers fix the engines of their vehicles – my long slender fingers could reach into cavities theirs could not. My patience was also useful. I have dug holes to plant trees; and helped to dig our vehicle out of thick mud or sand. I use my hands for gardening wielding a spade or fork, a trowel or rake, a mower or hedge trimmer when I am not weeding or watering.
My hands have gripped a tennis racquet, a squash racket, and held onto tiny ledges or crevices on rock faces whilst I have rock climbed. They have built sand castles, made playdough, and constructed endless things from Lego. They have knitted, embroidered and sewed. These now rather misshapen hands have caressed my babies, shown love, and have soothed sad children and adults alike.
They are an extension of my voice and feelings. Generations of pupils have laughed at my gesticulations when getting a point across in the classroom. “Ma’am, would you be able to teach without your hands?” Many have jokingly asked this question. The answer: “Yes, if you want a dry lecture and no if you would prefer to be enthused by what I have to teach you.”
My hands bear the scars of a life filled with activity and are seldom in repose. They cook and are in and out of dish water; they keep our home clean and do their best to keep piles of ironing at bay. They hold up books to read; binoculars to watch birds; a camera; and they regularly grip the steering wheel. They write or type every day and in doing so bring me a great deal of joy and satisfaction.
Above all, my hands are always ready to catch you when you fall; to help fix your hurt; and to reach out to you wherever you are.