The other day, as I was reading near a window, I looked over and caught the sunlight on my left hand. It was golden, summery light; the kind that transforms my house and gives it a warm glow. Wonderful light for reading.
It was also unkind, unforgiving sunlight that seemed determined to expose me.
There, was my hand. For a nanosecond, it belonged to someone else. It belonged to the future. Attached to me but briefly alien.
My hand looked so old.
“It was as if the bones and veins were working their way to the surface;
as if the skin were water receding to expose shapes at the bottom of a harbor.”
― Jonathan Franzen
While still in her thirties and forties, my mum often used to say that she hated hers because she had “old hands”. I remember that my father didn’t like her saying that. He’d answer: “I like your hands”, as though he took it personally.
In this, as in many things, I take after my mother.
The shape of my hands is fine: slender fingers, no swollen joints and no calluses. But they still betray me.
While my husband’s are a uniform shade of the palest brown, mine are sun-damaged and mottled. In fact, the skin of my hands seems to barely cover the living tissue underneath. Like overstretched cellophane.
Sometimes, when they’re playing next to me, my grandchildren—Penelope, four, and Graeme, two— will stop and trace their perfect small fingers along the veins that sit atop my hands like fat green worms.
My left hand is actually my better hand: it hasn’t done as much hard scrubbing or lifting; it has plunged far less frequently into hot, detergent-laced water. It has held fewer heavy bags—like the kind I drag along with me everywhere I go to teach— and performed fewer hard tasks. But that hasn’t stopped a noticeable dark spot from appearing on the top, near my thumb.
Then, too, my hands show the long term effects of taking medication for thyroid issues: they’re dry and embarrassingly rough. My nails are almost useless: they chip and break and are covered in tiny striations that begin at the nail bed and run to each fingertip; the cuticle is damaged, and I can’t do a damned thing about it.
I’m a tall woman with small hands. When I got married, my ring finger was size 4 ½; now, it’s a 5.
I envy the women my age who aren’t betrayed by their hands, who can look down at them as they type on a keyboard or do the thousand and one things that their lives require without being reminded that their bodies are, in fact, losing vitality every day and that their beauty must increasingly be found somewhere deeper.
“See all the women seated, youth in their face lifts, old age in their hands.” —J.P. Donleavy, The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms:The Chronicle of One of the Strangest Stories Ever to Be Rumoured about New York
A while ago, while looking at some of our wedding pictures, my husband said to me: “Do you know what has changed the most about you? It’s your hands.”
I remember feeling relieved and even happy.
One time, when I was apologizing for the roughness of my hand as it touched my son Christian’s arm, he said: “Your hands are dry and warm and I’ve always associated those qualities with the very best hands.”
Which is about the loveliest thing he could have said and which still comforts me.
I don’t wear nail polish. I’ve never had a manicure. I don’t remember often enough to use moisturizing cream on them.
My hands are ME. They’re not glamorous. They keep me honest by reminding me who I am and how much living I’ve already experienced.
They can’t be hidden, so I may as well use them. And get over myself.
My hands extend into life and allow me to do so much, and to touch the people I love. In recent years, they’ve also encircled the tiny hands of Penelope, then Graeme, and felt their soft skin and the gentle curves of their faces and arms…
Aging often feels horribly Kafkaesque. Simply looking into the mirror is a humbling and sometimes jarring experience.
But as long as they’re able to reach out to others, and as long as there’s someone there to touch, I have reason to hold my hands to my chest in an expression of gratitude.
“We enter the world with fists closed and when we leave, our hands are open. He said I should make full use of the time given to me for my life.”
― Debalina Haldar, The Female Ward
“To receive everything, one must open one’s hands and give.”
― Taisen Deshimaru