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JCF Blog

Our Hand Story

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 6/19/2018

Recently my sister and I were waiting in a restroom line watching a mother help her two young children wash their hands. The restroom did not have paper towels so the mother was demonstrating to the little ones how to shake their hands dry. The younger of the two did not seem to care for the idea of shaking water on the floor. Thinking on her feet, the mother replied in a sing-songy voice, “It’s ok. Shake and sprinkle, sprinkle and shake. Sprinkle on the world with your clean, happy hands.” And so the little ones happily shook their hands.

Not only did those tiny hands get dry, but they sprinkled smiles on me, my sister and the others within earshot. Just like that there was a perceivable shift in the mood of the group. All because of those little, happy hands.

More so than any other part of our bodies, our hands say a lot about us. Hands can reveal our chosen profession, such as the calloused hands of a carpenter; or our hobbies, think the dirty fingernails of a weekend gardener. What would it be like if we were to view the continuum of our lives through a lens that only showed our hands? I imagine it starting with a newborn wrapping a tiny fist around his mother’s finger. For those blessed to live a long life, it might end with an old, arthritic hand. Add in millions of moments in between and, even without words to put things in context, it would be a telling story. We would be able to see how the hands worked and with what purpose they moved. Were they gentile or harsh; loving or aggressive; or simply idle?

I’ve spend the past weeks noticing the hands of others. I watched my preschool reading pal tightly grip a red crayon to write his name. Without even looking at his face I could see his grip was tight and deliberate. It indicated his determination to write each letter to the best of his ability. I watched the fingers of my teenage son fly across his phone. Whatever he was typing, the speed of his fingers indicated it was important to him and the person on the receiving end.

Both of those sets of hands have a lifetime ahead of them. Their life story told through their hands is just beginning. Besides the obvious things like brushing teeth and tying shoes, what might a lens focused on their hands document? Perhaps providing lifesaving CPR or building the first time machine. Who knows!

I think of my mother-in-law as a real life Dr. Doolittle. Animals of all types simply cannot resist her. Be it cats, dogs, chickens, goats – they all flock to her. There is something about her hands; she has a special ‘touch’ and knows the perfect way to pet each one. It’s fascinating to watch. A nurse by profession, her hand story would show caring caresses toward both people and animals.

My mother’s hands are now bent, misshapen and often shake from old age. But they are still the softest, gentlest hands I know. She always baked cookies for the neighborhood children. She bandaged scraped knees regardless if they were her children or not. She crocheted baby blankets when she heard someone was expecting their first child. The best Nonna (Italian for grandmother), she insisted her grandchildren only eat homemade baby food. So she grew, cooked and pureed baskets of vegetables. She believed in always having busy hands. Her hand story is one of loving service to others.

Our hands hold potential and power. The power to hurt or to heal. To tear down or to build up. To create and to caress. Every day and in so many ways, we use our hands. If we were to imagine a camera lens recording our hands, would that help us be more intentional in how we use them? My hope is that we can all pause to think about how we can use our hands to sprinkle on the world with love, compassion, patience and forgiveness. 

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Michael Johnston
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Beautiful Lisa. Perhaps right now we need to be holding more hands as a society to remind us of the humanity we share.
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