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Hand In Hand

I was sitting on my bedroom floor, my arms reaching forward into the space I’d made by stretching my legs into a V. My hands were pressed down on the rug – flat, side by side, fingers apart. I must have seen my hands millions of times, but there was something about that moment that stilled me. I forgot about counting my breaths. I forgot about everything but staring, staring at my hands. It’s interesting what you see when you really look. You see that the hydrangea dangling over the edge of the fence is a million shades of blue and not just one. You discover that one of your eyebrows is slightly higher than the other. You notice that the towel in the shower is hanging just the least bit crooked and the faucet is dripping ever so slowly. Not that any of those disclosures, any of those revelations will alter the course of your life or even your day, but it can straighten you up a little, make you wonder what else you might have been missing. And I’d been missing my hands – the way the bones splayed like the tines of a rake, the way the veins curved and spread like tributaries of an invisible river, the way the skin folds crumpled like tissue paper. It has become a trope, a cliché, a rite of passage – the moment when one sees her hands and realizes that she is old – and I guess that is what this was, but it was also far more. I hadn’t just overlooked the aging of my hands; I had, for too long, overlooked their magic. They grip and grasp and squeeze. They clench and clasp and reach. They form and force and twist. They shape and sort and lift. And in every movement they teach. My newborn hands against the warmth of my mother’s flesh taught me that in order to reach, in order to hold anything I must first unclench my fists. My chubby toddler hands, wrapped firmly in the grip of my father, taught me what it means to belong to someone who can be trusted. My hands grew; my fingers lengthened; my muscles strengthened. I picked the flowers and built the sand castles and dug the tunnels that connected me to the earth. I made music on pianos and guitars. I swung bats and cast fishing poles and tossed horseshoes. And I learned to write. Gripping the fat green pencil tightly and watching its iridescent paint glimmer in the Georgia sunshine, I moved my hand across the Blue Horse tablet and made words. Miss Hagan told me which words to make, which words with which to fill my tablet and make her happy. Eventually, though, after I had mastered her words, I started making words of my own, words that existed nowhere else but inside my thoughts. And I realized that words – like the warmth of my mother, the grip of my father – could connect me to the world. They still do. The images and senses that begin in my thoughts find their way into the world, into the eyes and ears of other people, through my hands. Thoughts do not connect the thinker to the world. Thoughts do not communicate beyond the corporeal limits of the body housing the brain. Thoughts alone can not soothe, encourage, or incite. What can do all those things are words – words made visible, words that last forever when they are written down. My hands are old. They are bruised and scarred and wrinkled, but they still write. And that is magic enough.

Copyright 2023

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