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.