It occurred to me last night, as I was finishing up a hearty winter dinner of sausage and stuffing, that I could very easily lose my hand. Last week, what appeared to be an ingrown hair flared up – a pink pile of warm skin under a birch forest of wrist hair. How strange my arm would look, I imagine, without a hand at its end.
I pictured this for a moment, losing track of my wife’s conversation in the process, and imagined that were I to lose the hand, I would like to hang on to it. A shame that I would have to keep it in a jar of preserving fluid – probably formaldehyde, but I’d prefer a sturdy gin if that would hold the flesh and bones together – rather than keep it out where I could sometimes touch it. For practice, I let my right hand go limp and touched it with my left forefinger. I tried to not feel the tickle. I tried to imagine my right hand clammy like defrosted chicken. It was to no avail, as the infected hair – or whatever it was – made my hand extraordinarily sensitive and warm from my wrist to my fingertips.
When I picked up on the conversation again, it was something about a building downtown, of which the city had taken control through some process resembling eminent domain. But I quickly lost the thread again as I realized that my hand could suffer a far worse fate were I to elect to have an overzealous surgeon examine it – by all accounts, it is a handsome hand, and any doctor, I reason, would be overwhelmed and honored to work on it.
Legally, the hand is mine, and I guess that it is mine because it is attached at my wrist. But when the doctors lop it off, I wondered, would it still be mine? I suppose I could lay no more claim to it than the hair that tumbles to the floor when clippers shear my head. Odd, it would be, to insist to the barber: “That is my hair on the floor, and I want it!”
But I want to keep my hand, even if it is in a jar, or dried out and stuck to the end of a stick so that I could still poke people with my own right forefinger. I imagine engineering a series of springs and rods, perhaps inserted through a stainless steel tube, and connected to the bones and ligaments in my hand. It is still my hand of course. And there would be a trigger of sorts that I could squeeze to make the hand close. Then it would spring back open when I released the trigger. I should like very much to still use my hand, I think, to pick up not-too-heavy items nearby, or to reach cans and boxes high up in the kitchen cabinets. Or to rest my chin on while I think about the days when the hand and I were still one.
It occurs to me that my hand is more useful than I often give it credit for. In fact, hands are so useful that they infect our vocabulary for useful things. We open drawers with a handle. Axes and hammers have other sorts of handles. Teapots have a yet curvier variety of handle. Ladies carry handbags. Police (and others) restrain us with handcuffs – oh how I would love to be arrested without a curve at the end of my arm. We measure horses in hands. Only a handful of people showed up to the annual meeting. The blue ribbon committee was handpicked. Craftsmen show off their handiwork, and handmade crafts sell at a premium. I know this neighborhood like the back of my hand. Great boxers defeat lesser pugilists handily. Bicycle handlebars come in a squizillion shapes and sizes. We lend each other a hand, and give great performances a tremendous hand. Let’s face it – and it needs to be said this way: hands are handy.
Perhaps I don’t appreciate my hand enough. I suppose I am so bent on keeping my hand – even if it is detached from my wrist – because I am really quite attached to it – emotionally, but thanklessly, it seems. As I look at my hand more closely, I realize that I have never recognized my hand for all it does; I actually don’t know the back of my hand all that well. Sure, from time to time I’ll sprain this or that, or have a cut on a knuckle that reminds me of my feelings for my hand for a fleeting week or so. But why have I never honored my hand when it is well and functioning – when it is at its peak? Poor neglected hand, now in jeopardy with its ingrown, infected hair.
This reminds me: what was wrong with the buildings downtown anyway, the ones in our ongoing conversation, that someone finally noticed them? Were they sprained or strained? Were there cuts or bruises that needed some time to heal? Were they suddenly so infected that we feel a need to amputate them from the community? I don’t mean to be heavy-handed – because I’m always the first to complain when I sense such condescension – but am I the only one so damned pseudo-busy that I can’t even find the time to carefully consider and take proper care of my favorite hand?
It’s a good thing I didn’t get an ingrown hair on my left wrist.