More than eyes, the “windows to the soul,” hands tell. They can be light and graceful, long and tapered, stumped and blocky, but like a favored pet, they take on the personality of their owner. They become the work they do and carry their own history in the process. The sandpaper palms of the bricklayer, the steely calluses of the fireman, the leather fingertips of the guitarist. “Surgeon’s hands” depicts the deft digits of a highly trained physician, while the long fingers of a performing pianist unfold like the fan of a peacock.
I recall a recent newscast where the host inteviewed a hand model. She reluctantly removed her protective cotton gloves and held her snow-white hands aloft, shifting them deliberately before the camera like doves struggling to be freed. Perfectly shaped fingers caressed each other in self-absorbed adoration, mystically astounded at their own beauty. The model watched this slow dance before her, fascinated that she alone possessed the Hope Diamond of Hands.
The interviewer struggled with amused annoyance at the woman’s undisguised conceit, and finally asked her to stop her ethereal performance so the camera could focus on its subject. She complied briefly. As she described her daily life, which was dedicated to hand protection, her palms pillowed open and her fingers spread open slowly like the wings of a swan. Her hands reigned over everything she did, or rather, didn’t do. She neither cooked nor cleaned; she carried exactly nothing, neither an umbrella when it rained, nor a sack of food when she was hungry. She never held a child’s hand, caressed a furrowed brow, or flicked a crumb from a loved one’s shoulder. She had never permitted an icy snowball to drip through her fingers, or grabbed at the rough bark of an oak tree while climbing through its branches. Those hands never folded warm towels from the dryer, nor did they know the velvet softness of a baby’s face. Her tapered fingers never wrapped themselves around a steaming cup of tea on a winter’s afternoon, and most assuredly, the fragrant loam of a sun-warmed garden had never soiled that petal-soft skin. Lovely hands atop the model’s pedestal arms, she carried them through the world like twin princesses on a bier.
To maintain the translucent paleness of her skin, the model held her hands above her chest, as if her heart were somehow unworthy and had to be kept on the other side of town. She could keep her hands available at all times, and respond quickly should any ointments, creams or worship be needed. This anemic position also eliminated any veiny, ropey signs of age, and, evidently, wisdom.
The interview ended with the model gazing rapturously at her starry anatomy. The disgusted newsman smiled dutifully into the camera, trying to keep his eyes from rolling to the top of his head. The session, with both the model and her hands, was finally over.