Reflections on Hands: A Memoir Moment
Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler
” The heart is the toughest part of the body. Tenderness is in the hands.” Carolyn Forche, The Country Between Us.
I just returned from a women’s weekend retreat where I participated in a session on working with clay. The purpose of the session was to experience the transformative power of molding something out of a mound of clay so as to get in touch with the artist within. I started rolling the lump of brown clay into a ball feeling the soft clay against my palms and fingers. As soft music played in the background, Sister Sue spoke in soothing, measured phrases about getting in touch with our own creative energies and all our God-given gifts that need to come forth.
During the process, I became very aware of my hands and how they were vital tools in allowing me to shape the clay—first into a heart, then a butterfly, then a closed shell with curved edges until it ultimately opened up into a sunflower-shaped bowl. It was a little rough around the edges but it was beautiful. I pressed my thumbprints into the center in the shape of a heart, reminding me that I can open up and even if I am a little rough around the edges, I still have a heart.
Imperfection has its own beauty.
That led to a flood of memories about my hands…
Here I am with my dad, overlooking Keuka Lake in Penn Yan,NY (1950):
A four-year old little girl stands on a hill next to a man in the black and white photo. Her small, soft hands reach up to hold the large, safe hand of her father, her hero .
A seven-year-old and her baby brother Tom nestle in the safe grooves next to their father. He gently drapes his arms around them, their hands side by side(1953):
During my Freshman year in high school (1961), my hands were photographed for the yearbook, The North Star.
The day Wayne and I were married in October,2001:
Now the little girl has grown. She is sixty-four and her aging, wrinkled hand wraps, fingers intertwined, the same hand of her eighty-seven year old father whose hands are frail and spindly with skin as thin as parchment paper. She puts her other hand over their intertwined hands as they slowly walk in unison down the stairs of the lake house to sit on a beach swing and watch the boats go by or watch a mother duck lead her eight baby ducklings across the water.
The day I held my dying father ‘s hands, November 25, 2010:
I have been sitting at my father’s bedside for the past week, rubbing his swollen arm and telling him how much I love him. His skin is pink and soft and feels warm against my hand. I hold his hand and stroke his fingers. His nails are smooth and trimmed as they always have been. The wrinkles are ironed out by the swelling.
These are the hands that guided me through tenth grade geometry,through setting up a personal budget;the hands that held mine as we walked down the aisle and danced the Father-Daughter dance at my wedding. Now they drape motionless atop the pillows under his arms.
It is Thanksgiving Day and my father is dying, slowly fading away as he continues to breathe in and out in a peaceful, steady rhythm.
These hands that guided and soothed and provided are now still and worn. These soft child hands that reached up and were held are now wrinkled and reaching out to guide and nurture.
These hands that have begged for healing,have joined a family in prayer,have held crying babies, have rubbed a dying friend’s shoulder,have soothed a patient’s pain;these hands that have received a father’s love– these are my hands.
How about you? What stories would your hands tell?
I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below~
Monday, 3/3/14: “ Guide for Memoir Writers: Twitter Hashtags to Market Your Book & How to Use Them by Ann Smarty”