My hands are dirty – paint stained, chemical burned, broken nails – but mostly they’re dirty (and into the Doritos). And old.
Nowhere, as much as my hands, does my age show. My hands have done so much.
As I try to coax paint out from under my nails, I think of all the dirt, grime, debris, and ick my hands have been in during my fifty years. Those thoughts lead to all the other things my hands have done.
I have painted so many times – my first apartment the first time I did it alone. (A tasteful beige to cover up the hideous peach that attempted to mute the reddish orange carpet.)
Last summer, I was up to my elbows in garden dirt, ripped to shred by blackberry thorns, and happy.
I’ve cleaned houses, cars, cat boxes, and cement floors.
I’ve been midwife to dogs and cats having puppies and kittens.
As a child, my hands were always dirty – finger paints, mud, dirt, tadpole ponds, pudding from the bottom of the bowl, and all the grime a little girl afraid of Not Much could get into.
I hesitate to say dirty, but my hands were bathed in the blood and fluids of my newborn son when they let me hold him just a few moments before rushing him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – his tiny body held carefully and joyfully and tearfully.
My hands were clean for my first day of school, girl scout meetings, to make the pudding that later ended up on fingers and face.
My hands were clean for my wedding and for my divorce hearing. They were clean for job interviews and parent/teacher conferences and visitation hours at the hospital. They were clean under the white gloves I wore to church in frilly dresses and patent leather shoes.
My hands had been cleaned until as sterile as possible to caress that 3 lb. baby through the openings of an isolette.
They’ve caressed a lover.
Clenched in pain at news of a death.
They’ve put roses in a coffin and roses in the ground.
Held wine glasses and coffee cups.
Washed mountains of dishes.
They’ve gripped bicycle handles, steering wheels, and jump ropes.
And cut pasta.
My hands have wound music boxes and played air guitar.
They’ve carried evening purses, groceries, backpacks, diaper bags, apnea monitors, bouquets, and the lifeless body of a beloved dog.
They’ve comforted a breast cancer patient.
Typed a million words – some at 90 words a minute.
Answered phones, opened cans, and checked for heart beats.
They’ve wiped my tears and the tears of others.
Applied bandaids and makeup.
Poured wine on hot summer nights and mulled cider on cold winter evenings.
They built cement block houses during an earthquake recovery mission in Guatemala.
Fed chocolate pudding to street urchins in Mexico. Carried a passport in London and luggage in Canada.
They’ve handed things and passed things and dropped things.
Tried to crochet a hundred times.
They’ve needlepointed yards and yards of yarn.
And mowed acres of grass.
My hands are old with the joys and sorrows of life; like my eyes and mouth, the wrinkles are my life written on my body – witness to fifty good years and some bad times.
With palms up, my eyes closed and my mouth open in a near silent om, I wish for fifty more years of filthy hands. Clean hands. Holding hands. Busy hands.