Saturday, 17 March 2012


These are my hands.  They’re not pretty but, for as long as I can remember, they’ve looked like this.  Okay, maybe not so wrinkled in years past, but I’ve always kept my nails short and my hands have always shown signs of hard use.  Skinned knuckles, cuts, burns, scrapes—they’ve all been there; testimony to the fact that I use my hands a lot.

To be honest, I never really gave much thought to pretty hands.  For much of my life, the idea that hands could be viewed as objects of beauty didn’t even occur to me.

I can clearly remember the first time I understood that some people place importance on the appearance of their hands:  

I was in my middle thirties and I’d gone out shopping with a friend.  I’d just paid for a small purchase and was walking away from the till when my friend remarked, “I’ll bet it really upset her that she broke that nail.”

It struck me as odd that my friend had noticed the clerk’s broken nail and that she’d thought it important enough to remark upon it.  I hadn’t noticed it.  I hadn’t even looked at the clerk’s hands.  Then I looked at my friend’s hands.  I saw perfectly manicured nails, smooth skin, and pretty rings.  The penny dropped.

When I’m interacting with people, I focus on their faces.  When I walk away, I can almost always tell you the colour of a person’s eyes and hair.  I can often describe their manner of speech and identify their accents.  I can tell you if they made eye contact with me, if they said please and thank you, and—if it’s a business transaction—assess the quality of the customer service I’ve received.  I often notice if they are tired, frustrated, patient, polite, hard working (or not), enthusiastic, or thorough.  I sometimes notice what they’re wearing.  But can I describe their hands?  Pretty nearly never. I have no idea if their nails are long or short, if they are wearing rings, if their hands are delicate and pretty, or utilitarian like mine.

This may be because I’m not a person who gives a great deal of thought to her appearance.  I try to be a slob and I do like to dress in a manner that’s appropriate to my social situation, but I don’t go to the salon or spa, I don’t wear make up, and I spend as little money as possible on my clothing.  I’m not criticizing people who do spend time and money on this stuff—more power to you if you care to make the effort and can find the time to do it—it’s just not important to me.

A person who looked at my un-pretty hands might surmise that I work them hard, and they’d be right.  I’m blessed with a great curiosity about the world around me and that curiosity manifests itself in a desire to learn about, see, and make new things.  I always have several projects underway.  My hands are busy cooking, and painting, and sewing, and building, and, cutting, and sanding, and gluing, and typing.  They work in unison with my eyes when I’m taking photos , or drawing, or making art.  They work in unison with my heart when I’m preparing food, making gifts, or providing care.  They are the tools with which I express the person that I am.

Lately I’ve been thinking more about hands.  My own are less reliable than they used to be and it’s caused me to take them less for granted.  Now I find myself looking at other people’s hands. 

I notice the width of my husband’s hands.  I see the scars on his fingers, the age spots, and the blunt nails.

I notice that my younger daughter’s hands are quite beautiful, with graceful long fingers and soft skin.

I notice my niece’s fingers, still rounded with childhood, and how—like mine—they busy themselves with projects and crafts.

I notice the near transparent skin of the elderly woman waiting beside me at the doctor’s office; how a tracery of blue veins maps the backs of her hands, and how her wedding ring fits loosely on her finger.

Marvellous, miraculous tools, these hands.  I’m glad I notice them more these days, and grateful for how well mine have served me.

Special thanks to Laurel Gedge-Perez for the photo.

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