Looking at my hands

Last week our daughter was looking at my hands and she asked me if my finger was injured. It isn’t and it wasn’t then. My fingers have a few bumps around the joints that I didn’t have when I was younger. It is the normal process of aging for working hands. They develop a collection of small scars and a few changes in shape. In my particular case, I have been remarkably free of pain. My hands get tired from time to time, and when I have been doing certain jobs they will get a bit stiff and ache just enough that I notice it, but compared to many others, I am very lucky.

Now, a week or so later, remembering that brief conversation with her, I got to thinking about my aging body. I’ve never had a broken bone, or if I have, it wasn’t displaced and didn’t need treatment. I’m pretty sure that if I had broken a bone, I would know it, so I assume that I’ve been free from that particular injury. I do have an ankle that seems to sprain easier than was the case when I was younger and if I am not careful and allow it to get twisted, it will swell up and give me pain for a few days until it heals. I have what I assume is a bit of arthritis in one of my shoulders and it will ache if I haven’t been very careful about its use. That’s about it. Not bad for a guy who is approaching retirement age.

On the other hand, I’ve never had a body that is particularly remarkable for athleticism or strength. I tried playing sports in school, but never excelled. My peers were better at running, jumping, throwing balls and other sports skills. I was made the “manager” of my junior high basketball team and given a score book instead of a uniform so that the team could meet the league requirements for giving every boy who went out for the team play in games without sacrificing their ability to win. It never bothered me. I could imagine what it might feel like to be a star athlete and I was impressed with the skills of other players.

What I have been good at is work. I could load a truck with 50# feed bags as quickly as an adult when I was still in high school. I can work a shovel or rake. I can handle an axe and split wood with a maul. I can row a boat or paddle a canoe and make good distance in a reasonable time. I’m not the biggest or the strongest. I’m just me.

One thing about aging that I enjoy is that I have learned to enjoy being just who I am. When I was younger, I might imagine myself to be someone who would become famous. I like writing so I imagined being like Hemingway or Tolstoy or Steinbeck. I like singing, so I imagined what it might be like to be on stage with a room full of cheering fans. I enjoy leading liturgy, so I could imagine being called to preach in a cathedral or deliver a lecture series in a major university. My imagination often got me to thinking about what it might be like to be famous and well known.

I don’t spend much time with that kind of imagination these days. At the well-seasoned age of sixty-three I know that I’m unlikely to become a famous author or a sought-after speaker or someone who is recognized in a crowd. And, at this age, I’ve learned to be quite comfortable with who I am.

The one life I have been given is remarkable and wonderful in so many ways. It isn’t just that I’ve been spared pain that others have had to endure, though that is in itself a precious gift. I have a life that has been touched by and touches the lives of others. I have relationships that matter and that connect me to a web of other people who are engaged in meaningful activities. Together we form a community and my role in the community involves tasks that fit well with my skills. I have meaningful work and am surrounded by people who care.

When I walk, I am aware of what an incredible ability that alone is. And when I step down just right (or perhaps just wrong) I can feel a twinge of pain in my ankle that reminds me that I am fully alive. When I wake in the morning and have done a bit of work, I can feel just enough hunger in my belly to remind me that I have a well-stocked pantry and enough food to sustain me. When I dress for the day, I look into my closet and see enough choice to remind me of the gifts of freedom. When I check my e-mail and phone messages there are enough there to remind me that others still desire my attention.

Instead of seeking to be famous, it seems to me to be sufficient to discover myself in a small circle of light in a sometimes very dark world, a modest bit of meaning in the midst of chaos. I may not change the world, but I can interact with it in ways that matter.

And when I look at my hands, I discover that I like them. The scar from an old accident with a cross cut saw in the woods years ago, the creaks in the joints from hours of grasping hand tools, the bumps and calluses and even the small scabs from the most recent encounters with harsh or sharp surfaces - these all have stories that accompany them. My hands have been with me for the entire journey of my life. And they serve me well. They can still do over 70 words per minute on the keyboard. They still can remove the lid from the peanut butter jar unassisted. They still can hold a baby and splash the waters of baptism.

Life has been good to me and I have every reason to believe that goodness will continue.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!