Our hands do a lot for us. More than any other body part, our hands work. They wash our bodies, hold our loved ones, build houses, cut vegetables, pick flowers, button shirts, take photos, write, caress, push, press, and touch. We use them to communicate. We wave them to say goodbye, put two fingers up for peace, and one for the opposite. Our haptic memory means our hands can sense what something is even if all of our other senses become broken. They know the difference between wood and metal. They know the feel of a book, a bowl, hair, a fish, an apple. Our haptic sense knows how much force to use when picking up a baby and putting her down. Our hands remember. They know the feeling of our own faces, the feeling of one another, clasped. They know the speed and weight of which to touch someone to make them feel cared for. They can learn a song on piano.
In ancient cultures, mystics and healers looked to hands to uncover the truths about people. Palmistry or palm reading, was a common practice nearly globally. It is said to have its origins in India, after which it spread to the rest of Asia and Europe. In the middle ages, palm reading was used to expose witches, when palmists encountered indicative spots on the hand. Each palm is comprised of a life line, a head line and a heart line. One told your vitality, the next your capacity for intellect and the last, your emotional nature. Absolving our autonomy into a larger web of predestiny, has always been a source of healing and relief for humans, even with something as simple as a hand.
Each one of us has a unique fingerprint. Our fingers contain some of the largest clusters of nerve endings in all of our body, making them the best source for tactile response. When Pablo Neruda wrote, “your whole body like an open hand,” we know what he meant. To open your hand is to be vulnerable, and to be vulnerable is difficult, but essential to love. To have an open hand, is an invitation to the world and experience. A flower or a raindrop can never fall into a fist. Holding hands can even be more intimate than kissing. Holding hands is a joining of our most sensitive parts. Even the small intimacy that occurs during a handshake is a gesture of peace and connectedness.
Let’s use our hands to make better work. Let’s use our hands to make things that last, cook good food with love, and communicate our deepest selves. Let’s use our hands, not only for ourselves, but for others. If we use them to carry out what we intellectually and emotionally know to be valuable, we can create true change. The hands represent action and creation. Let’s not take them for granted, let’s utilize them to their fullest potential. Touch, hug, make a shadow puppet, plant a flower, sign a petition. All hands on deck.
1. Nina Simone playing piano by Guy Le Querrec
2. Igor Stravinsky holding pet cat by Henri Cartier-Bresson
3. "Hands Framing Harbor" by John Baldessari, Harry Shunk, and Jean Kender
4. Black Lives Matter protest - photographer unknown