In April, a devastating earthquake hit Nepal. Once again, as in similar tragedies, we saw news of folks desperately searching the rubble for survivors. We’ve seen this before — and the poorer the country, the more frequently you see people actually using their hands to scrape away at debris and tumbled buildings.
I had a daughter traveling in Asia when the earthquake occurred, and although I was certain her itinerary hadn’t taken her to Nepal yet, I anxiously awaited word. It’s hard to get news out of China, where she was traveling, as Facebook and Google are largely banned, and calls and texts are prohibitively expensive.
I was glad to finally hear that my daughter was still in China and was, perhaps, more shocked than I was at the devastation in a place she had planned to visit. Temples she would have seen now are in ruin.
Perhaps because of this personal connection, even though a tenuous one, I thought of those folks who searched in panic and terror for their loved ones, desperately clawing at the earth with their hands to save someone dear to them.
Many people have written reflections about hands. Each of us has hands that are uniquely ours. I looked at my hands this morning and imagined how they would look after hours of trying to make dusty remnants yield someone I loved. Envision the cracked nails, the scrapes and cuts, the grime, tragedy’s impact traced on each bloody finger.
St. Teresa of Avila wrote some early famous words about hands: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours.”
Looking at my hands as the hands of Christ makes me aware of all the good — and some bad — I’ve done with my hands. It makes me aware that maybe I need to give more hugs, more literal and figurative pats on the back. I need to bake more cookies for other people, extend my hand with more enthusiasm during the exchange of peace at Mass, applaud a little more vigorously.
As we age, our hands betray our years in ways the rest of the body can sometimes conceal. Have you ever noticed someone who has skin pulled tight from numerous plastic surgeries, not a wrinkle to be seen on a taut and Botoxed face? But if you get a glimpse of the person’s hands, no matter how manicured and pampered, you see the years displayed there.
My grandmother had severe osteoarthritis, and the fingers of her hands were wildly disfigured, at least they seemed that way to a child. Imagine my grief when, as a relatively young woman in her 40s, arthritis began to attack my hands. I told the doctor about my grandmother and he said, “Someday you will have hands just like your grandmother.”
When he left the room to find information for me, I stared out at the rain, the vision of the parking lot blurred by raindrops running down the window and by my tears.
My hands have gotten worse with the years, but they aren’t grandma’s hands yet. But if it comes to that, I’ll accept it because my hands are part of my story. They tell of my heritage, they tell of my labor. My hands have held and comforted three babies, embraced teenagers, and now have cuddled a grandchild.
They have planted flowers in rich earth, typed out reams of words, wiped away many tears. Today, I’ll try to use my hands lovingly and pray for those whose hands were bloodied in the search for those they loved.