His Hands

July 31, 2018

In January, I wrote an essay for Hello There, Friend about my pregnancy and birthing experience with Noah. When I was writing the piece, I dug through old baby photographs and was flooded with memories that had been stashed away and forgotten...faces I haven't seen in awhile, favorite tiny outfits, funny moments captured on film, and places that took me awhile to remember. The image that stuck with me the most was the one that I ultimately used to go along with my essay. It is a black and white photo of Noah. He's just a few days old and he is being cupped in hands. My parents' hands, but mostly my dad's large hands. It caught my breath to see those hands and to remember exactly when that photograph was taken. 

During the final weeks of my pregnancy, the plan had been for my mom to fly up and spend several weeks helping us to prepare and adjust to new parenthood. My dad stayed at home to work and take care of my youngest sister. We had already made plans to travel down to Louisiana when Noah was two months old to spend a month there with family and friends. That would be when my dad would meet Noah for the first time, but the night that Noah was born, my dad made the spontaneous decision to get a ticket and a few days later he flew to Washington State to meet his first grandchild. I took this photo early on that first morning of his visit. The light was streaming in from the big windows that opened out onto Puget Sound. My parents were both still in their pajamas and robes. My dad had been sketching Noah when I woke up and walked into the scene. I grabbed my camera and took a number of shots including this one that I had forgotten until flipping through an album lodged on Noah's book shelf in here in Japan. 

And although it has been many months since re-discovering that photo, the importance of it still unsettles me. My dad's hands were one of the things I struggled with the most during his final month of life and in the months after his death. His hands were long and always in motion. He used them for talking and expressive gesturing. He used them to paint and draw with on a daily basis. He used them to pet, Shadow, his favorite cat and he would swirl them around himself in the ocean each summer. They were strong hands with thin, lanky fingers, but during that last month in the hospital his hands became incredibly swollen and unrecognizable. I felt haunted by that image of them in their misshapen state. In fact, when I eventually went to see an art therapist to talk about my grief, it was his hands that I drew over and over again, week after week. Ugly, clumsy drawings marked with tears and frustrated smudges, I was trying my hardest to re-claim "his" hands, the way they should have been.  

My dad taught intro to drawing classes for over thirty years to college students and one of the exercises he always had them do was to draw their hands. Have you ever attempted to draw your own hand? It is incredibly challenging. In fact, my dad, who was an accomplished and well respected artist, drew his hands throughout his life and never felt totally satisfied with them. There is something so personal about our hands. At first glance, it seems like we all have the same basic digits and joints, but on closer study our hands tell just as many and perhaps more stories than our eyes. They are marked with scars, age spots, veins, creases, and grit. 

Finding that photograph of Noah in my dad's hands was an unexpected gift. Ten years after his death, I feel like I have found my way back to his hands. 

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