Hands. To hold. To carry. To touch. To feel.
Hands. They tell a story, our story, our past. They bridge the space between us, they reach within, they stretch beyond.
Yesterday, I met a woman whose hands told the story of her life on the streets. Hard. Calloused. Strong. Her hands held mine in their vice-like grip as she poured out her grief, her sorrow, her frustration, her anger.
Her hands pushed the hair back from her face, they sliced the air as she told the story of fighting for every breath she takes. Of fighting for a space to call her own, of reaching for one small piece of comfort, ease, truth, acceptance.
And in her story-telling, she held out her hands towards me and showed me her cracked palms and insisted, You couldn’t imagine what it’s like. You just couldn’t imagine.
What I hear is your life is hard, very hard, I said to her.
And she bowed her head as tears flowed from her eyes. And then, with a shrug, she straightened up, angrily wiped away her tears with one hand and replied, It’s the life I’ve got. I gotta deal with it.
A few years ago, I sat at the bedside of a man from the shelter where I worked as he transitioned from this life to whatever lay beyond. I held his calloused hand in mine and felt the story of his life unravel in my palms.
I knew him well. He was one of the first people to come to the art program I’d started at the shelter. James had a love of photography and used whatever money he earned shovelling snow, working temp or picking bottles to purchase a camera, computer, software and other photography related tools that would help him improve his art.
It’s my retirement program, he’d laugh.
Retirement never came.
He’d been homeless for years and though alcohol had been a driving force in the tearing apart of his former life, he no longer drank. He mostly just kept to himself, did his work, took his photos and offered them for sale at our various art shows.
He was gifted. And passionate. His hands held his camera steady, guiding his eyes to the story beyond the picture he was taking.
And they never failed. They always found the beauty in the mundane, the unique angle in the light, the poignant story in a window.
His were steady hands. Hard-working. Strong.
As the cancer that gripped his body began to eat away at his life, his hands grew softer. Quiet. Until the final night when I sat with him in a room at a hospice just outside the city and heard his final indrawn breath and felt the last touch of warmth leave his body. For a moment, his hands lay still in mine until I had no choice but to let go. His hands were cold and I could not warm them.
Yesterday, a woman gripped my hands and I was reminded of James’ hands in mine on that cold December night when life let go of a man who had fought so long to hold his grip on it.
Her hands were warm and fierce and strong as she gripped mine. She did not need me to warm them. She just needed me to hold on, for a moment, while she told her story.
Sometimes, that is all we can do. Hold one another in communion, sharing our stories, guiding our hearts to listen deeply to what the other says. And when the time is right, to let go so we can each continue on our journey, strengthened by our brief encounter, knowing we are not alone.