A bird in hand is worth two in the bush. A firm hand. I have to hand it to you. To have the upper hand. To be underhanded.
What’s the first thing you notice about someone? Their hair? Their eyes? Clothing? Voice? The first thing I look at (well, after your face probably) is your hands. I love hands. I love how they seem to reflect your career, what you’ve been doing lately, and even your personality.
The man handing me a bunch of asparagus at the farmer’s market yesterday morning had big, rough, tanned hands with dirt under the fingernails. I imagined them taking apart a tractor, ripping back the husk of an ear of corn, scratching the ears of a shaggy dog. The little curly-haired girl running out of the Sunday school room with a picture of David in the lion’s den has marker all over her hands. She’s chosen purple for the lions, and the Crayola violet is smeared between each finger. The sqirmy ninth grader who “forgot” to study for her English final bites her fingernails and folds her hands repeatedly as if she’s playing that kid’s rhyming game about the church and the steeple. A girl with long pink false nails leftover from prom last weekend. A guitar player with calluses on each tip. A teacher with dry erase marker on the heel of her hand because it takes too long to find an eraser and she doesn’t want to break the flow of the lesson.
Give me a hand. To have a hand in something. Sleight of hand. The matter at hand. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Right hand man.
At work, my hands take a beating. They’ve become strong from gripping a scoop and pulling it through frozen mounds of chocolate and caramel and peanut butter then packing it onto a cone. I’ve given up trying to keep them clean, settling for a quick rinse in the sink when napkins start to stick to my palms. Instead of dirt under my fingernails, there are Oreo crumbs. I spend a good hour a day with my hands in the sink, washing dishes and trying to avoid the knives someone always insists on submerging in the soapy water. They’re sore and cramped when I get home, like I’ve just been rock climbing. But despite the beating, I can’t help but smile when I see a tiny set of fingers creep along the edge of the counter outside the ordering window. The owner of the fingers (how do the nails get so tiny?!) discovers the step stool we’ve set outside and a little face peeks over the edge, grinning.
Hand in. Hand off. Hand out. Hand over. Hands down. The hands of a clock. My hands are tied. Taking a handout. To know firsthand.
We have so many phrases in English that talk about hands. “Hand” can mean effort, position, relationship, possession, and yes, even the physical body part. Every meal prepared, every word typed or written, every pair of pants buttoned, our hands are so often utilized that they’re often overlooked. We wash them, moisturize, trim our fingernails, but how often do you stop to marvel at how your hands are made? Their dexterity is astounding, and their strength can be surprising. There are 27 bones in the hand. Times two makes 54. There are 209 bones in the human body. That means 26 percent of the bones in your body are in your hands. Fearfully and wonderfully made, indeed.
Hands on. Hands off. To go hand in hand. Out of hand. On one hand, on the other. Know it like the back of your hand.
At church, we shake hands with our seat neighbors. We raise our hands during a powerful song. We hand the collection plate down the row. The pastor raises her hands in a blessing as we leave.
Jesus laid his hands on people to heal them. We are called to write the name of the Lord upon our hands. God will uphold us with a righteous right hand. Christ shows Thomas and the others his hands where the nails had pierced.
It turns out hands also mean health, faithfulness, protection, belief, peace, and love. Definitely love.
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.