A Reflection on Hands

What is the most effective way of communicating?

I seriously want to consider this for a moment.  What are our options?  We can speak most obviously.  Tell someone how we feel.  We can formulate an idea in our heads, translate it from an idea to actual words, speak these words, and then let others, with their endless streams of differing experiences, translate the meanings they associate with our words into ideas in their heads.  Whew.  There is a lot of room there for meaning to be lost.  What if the words we associate with our ideas (ideas are not words, try to think about something without using words, its a fun exercise) aren’t very feasibly constructed into sentences that accurately depict what we are thinking?  What if the individual we are communicating with associates slightly (or completely) different meanings with those words?  And then what if the lasting imprint those words leave on his brain is completely different from what you intended to say in the first place?  If what you intended to say and what you said were not even the same to begin with!

My point is this.  Bonds and understanding can be formed and strengthened by words, rhetoric and discourse.  Yes.  Of course.  These things are even almost necessary to elevate the understanding between individuals to a much higher and intimate level.

But you can’t reason your way out of a firefight.  And no matter how clearly you understand one’s ideas, it is a completely different thing to stand beside them against adversity.  To have their back in a fight.  The best will endure the worst with you, not just talk about it.  To have to DVR the game so you can help them move AND drive them to the airport.

THAT is the worst.

So what is the most effective way of communicating?

Actions. Actions. Actions.

Allow me this seemingly disjointed transition: I was at Mass the other day.  We were giving one another the sign of peace and an old man grasped my hand, acknowledged my words, “Peace be with you.” and then didn’t let go.  He held my hand, turned it over in his, examined my callouses, and then finally released it.  He said, “You have good hands.  And I’ve seen a lot of hands.”  And then he turned around.  And that was that.

I didn’t know this man’s story, but I can imagine.  Sometimes I like to think he was a WWII veteran, handling his rifle with fingers that didn’t care if it was hot or cold, dry or wet.  They couldn’t care about those things in the situations he was in.  Other times I picture him raising 7 kids and 24 grandchildren, having developed arthritis in his right hip from years of perfecting the horsy-leg movement.  He could have done both, I still don’t know why he thought to compliment my hands.  But it got me thinking.

My hands have done a lot.  And I’m only 23.  Seriously, next time you are in church look down at your hands.  Truly examine them.  Shoot, it doesn’t have to be in church; just look them over.  Front and back.  And think of everything, both good and bad, that they have done.  Of everything that they will do.  Of every action, past and future, for which they will be the bridge linking your thoughts to the world around you.  It is a sobering exercise.  But I think an unequivocally hopeful one.

Every regret we have is something bound within action (or lack thereof).  There is a reason every true confession is accompanied by a tremble.  A tremble caused not by our twisted will, or by an ugly idea.  A tremble caused by the realization that we chose to take that idea, place it within our forearms, and let its consequences spew out our fingertips.  Similarly, every triumph is undeniably tied to something we did.  Words wouldn’t have made her stay, words didn’t build that house, words didn’t forge 50 years of marriage.  Every statement we make is merely a bridge to an ongoing memory who’s substance lies in action.  In movement.  In our will made incarnate.

We don’t have an extra set.  Of anything.  Hands included.  What we get weathers both the good and the bad.  The hands that have held and comforted someone we love are the same hands that have struck out in shortsighted anger or rebuke.  The potential, in both directions, is truly staggering.  And thats why I think about the words that old man said to me in church almost every day.

He said to me, with conviction and trust:

“You have good hands.”

And it wasn’t a conditional statement.  It wasn’t a ‘sometimes’, or a ‘mostly’, or a ‘when I feel like it’.  It was four simple words intimately tied to the power I decide to enact.

And I can choose to let those words echo listlessly in the halls of that church.  Or I can push every day to give those words true meaning.

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