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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

I am sitting in my first floor apartment lock-downed due to the constraints of the coronavirus. On a fine day it gives me pleasure to look into the garden and see the trees with their new green leaves, the azaleas and rhododendrons coming into flower and hear the birds, too. I can see people moving separately toward the market through the gardens occasionally taking with them their young children bursting with pent-up energy. In the distance I can see the cranes atop the partially completed tower buildings waiting to start work again. The sun periodically peeks out through the puffy cumulus clouds enticing me to get the mandated walk in the fresh air. But my hands pound away on the keys keeping in touch with the friends near and far, mostly living similarly restricted lives and champing at the bit to get out.

I have so much time on my hands that it allows me to be introspective and dwell on my current state of mind, and think of times and places gone by and those many people lost or out-of-touch. But I also catch myself mirrored on my computer screen as my old hands move across the keyboard. It is my hands that fascinate me. They seem to provide the link between my inner self and the outer person; in fact I see my hands as an extension of that inner self.

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I look at those now twisted arthritic hands that bear the history of my 80-plus years, with the scars, spurs, bruises and other features that changed those pristine childhood hands of so long ago. Hands that throughout my life have been capable of expressing and acting out either good or evil, and, most importantly, love.

Hands can be servants of your thoughts. There is nothing more wonderful than to feel a child’s hand searching for yours to satisfy the need for love and security. In adolescence, touching, caressing, hands-in-hand, are early features of a relationship. But at the other end of life it is painful to see the hands of a spouse on the window of the care home trying to attract the attention of their sick partner with whom they are not allowed to be in contact.

The comings and goings of partnerships present with hand signals, the “hellos” and “goodbyes,” the handshakes, the pats on the back and the hugs, which we are currently unable to do. Washing our hands. Hands in prayerful mode. “Namaste,” the clasped hands that shows our appreciation without touching, and with the possibility of being more than two metres apart.

All too frequently we may see the signs of anger or abuse, the politicians punching the air with clenched fists to make their points, the hand holding the gun or the knife poised to do damage. Hands may serve the wrong purpose but yet may be indicative of a clamour for equality, fairness and justice. The hands in the air holding signs and demanding change

Hands can do wonderful things. The joy of hearing a cellist or violinist move their bow or listening to and watching a percussionist exercise their dynamic skills, by seeing a flautist’s fingers skating along the instrument – their hands and musical interpretations are wrought for our benefit. In reply, our hands can respond with joyful applause.

I envy the artists with their paintbrush talents and potters’ wheels giving us the colours and shapes to stir our imagination. I envy the writers using their hands to give us words and phrases, books and papers, and texts to challenge us. I envy the athletes and swimmers using their hands to perform remarkable feats.

But at the present time when so many of us are shut away, ill in hospital or waiting for delayed surgery, we are bound to think of those supporting us, mostly unseen. It is the drivers with hands on the wheel for many hours as they bring us food, or the grocery clerks scanning our purchases, it is the cleaners with gloved hands pushing brooms and disinfecting surfaces at risk for wages that are too low, it is the nurses and aides in hospitals and care homes handing out comfort and medications behind masks and gowns, and it is the doctors using their dexterous skills in ways that we can’t begin to imagine.

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Many of us do not come in close contact with people who are suffering because we are vulnerable ourselves and remain confined. So in our limited way, we all join in the early evening hand clapping and banging of saucepans to show our thanks for the unseen helpers.

But as we cook or read or phone or Zoom in our silos to pass the time, we remember to wash our hands, frequently, to seek out the cracks in those old hands where the viruses like to hide!

Maybe, like me, we ponder what has been, what might have been. We are thankful for the opportunities we have had and how they have moulded our personalities. We regret the evil in the world and wonder whether we could have used our hands in efforts to have made it otherwise. However, we know that love and consideration of the other will eventually win out.

Graham Rawlings lives in Vancouver.

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