apropos of nothing (except having had a couple of beers) I just looked at my hands. They are stained with the kind of dirt that several washings do not remove. Working on boats gives it to you. Working with engines. Very occasionally there was work in the theater that would. Blacksmithing and steel in general are another. Working in old houses is what did it this time.
You know the kind of dirty where the little lines that record the wrinkles made every time you make a fist or bend your fingers are etched in a grey-black, highlighting the pink of the skin next to them? That kind of dirty. Some small splinters from old, old wood, some stains from polyurethane and paint. I turned my hand over and was treated to a skinned knuckle and an abrasion from a handsaw that slipped.
These are my hands. So much of what I do depends on them. They can play guitar a little, cut dovetails, write a blog post, caress my wife, and, one day, hold my baby. They have been with me and have functioned perfectly for 35 years, except when I abuse them. They have clawed me to the top of sheer rock cliffs on two continents, hauled on lines on hundred-year-old-schooners, written a graduate thesis, and made a bassinet for my niece. They are the first thing that I offer to a new acquaintance, and the last thing that a friend sees when we part.
They carry the stories of two table saw accidents, an incident with a drill that has left a permanently mangled thumbnail, and the time that I slit my left thumb open on a pane of glass and probably should have had stitches. They bear the only jewelry that I wear, two pieces that indicate my love for my wife and my allegiance to my graduate alma mater.
There is much talk about fingerprints and the fact that they are deeply personal, but I also know that the vein patterns on the backs of the hands are as well, and these are what I often look at. Sometime I will maybe post the story of my father and the veins on Abraham Lincoln's hands, but not tonight. Lincoln's hands were cast, and the casts live at the Smithsonian. And the veins on the backs of his hands are as personal to him as mine are to me. We have both used axes to shape wood, and I count myself lucky that we have that in commmon. I like how the veins wander over the tendons under the skin. I like the wrinkles that form when I extend all of my fingers.
Our baby has its own hads. I have seen them. Grainy, black-and-white hands that already have bones and can make tiny tiny fists. When (god willing) it comes into this world, it will begin to use its hands to tell its own story, to make its own story. I am excited and awed by the thought of holding those tiny hands in mine. I am exhilarated by the opportunity to teach our child to use its hands to make. And I am honored and thankful that my own hands have done such diligent work for me in my own life.