How I’ll Use These Hands

For the past several days, I’ve been picking at the same small scabs on my right hand and wrist, adding to the pre-existing scars there.

Here’s what I see: Over the knuckle of my pointer finger, a small scar from I don’t know what, and a small burn on top of that from the oven last week. The burn blistered and peeled off.  Some veins visible in the middle of the top of my hand, with a beauty mark just to the right of one of these.

Below that, another small scar from a bike accident, and to the right of those, the two areas I keep picking at, where Chalupa bit me with her tiny little piranha shark baby dog teeth.

Why, why am I picking at the scabs? Is it for the same reason people cut themselves — to feel something? Is it evidence of anxiety or not being mindful?

My son, who is 12, likes to pinch and lift the skin on the top of my hands, to see how long it stands up. It’s a test of time, of age, of elasticity, maybe of hydration. I also experience it as a test of “you are my mama and you are really here and I can touch your hands and feel comforted.” I know I’m making this last part up, but it’s intuitively what I feel when he does that.

The other night, when we were watching the fixer-upper show where the couple in Waco, Texas buys “the worst house on the best block” and renovates it to the buyer’s delight, he was stroking the inside of my upper left arm. “Your skin is so soft,” he said. And I told him how I remember saying the same thing to my mom, incredulous at how soft the skin of her arms was. I always think Mani’s skin is that soft, too.

All of this has me thinking about pain and comfort, numbing out and reaching out, where we pick at the scabs and what it takes to let them heal in a world that makes it impossible not to have a broken heart 100% of the time.

I look down at my left hand — scars on my thumb from a sibling fight as kids and a knife that slipped while opening some godawful plastic packaging. That one needed stitches.

These are small injuries in the grand scheme of things, nothing traumatic.

One could argue that being alive is rather traumatizing. But the truth is, this depends greatly on one’s conditions, which depend greatly on a great many factors.

As I write this, my chest is tight. The kitchen is busy with activity — Mani’s doing dishes, Aviva just made herself a breakfast burrito, and Chalupa is looking contemplative though more likely she’s wondering when it’s ever going to be time for lunch.

I’m saddened by how quick we are to take things personally, to take every possible opportunity to re-injure ourselves where healing has begun. And also aware as ever of my own aging, softening skin, my own heart, and my own responsibility to take care of myself, my wife and children, and my fellow humans, especially those who are most vulnerable to the horrors of white nationalism in the guise of legal action.

Everything that’s happening is straight out of Hitler’s playbook, though you could swap out plenty of other fascist leaders’ names and the moves would be the same. Last night, I dreamed about a fire. Countless people made to wear KKK  outfits behind barbed wire were being burned alive.

I woke with that image and cannot shake it. My hands, moving calmly over the keys, don’t reveal the fact that my very bones are shaking with genetic memory of the road to genocide. So yes, I am beside myself. No wonder I’m picking my scabs.

I pause for a moment. It serves no purpose for me to sit here, a mess of raw nerves and bleeding cuts. Nor can I simply compartmentalize and go on with my day, though I will do just that to some degree. Life goes on, but there is also no business as usual. To be awake in this world is to be responsible — for taking exquisite care of our own wounds, and for doing everything possible to not only call out but to put an end to atrocities and human rights offenses occurring under our watch.

I look down at my hands and realize they are shaking a bit. It’s just after 11:00 and I haven’t eaten breakfast yet. I’ll use them to prepare something nourishing for myself, in the name of the kind of care that must begin close to home and ripple ever outward. And I’ll try to remember to leave the scabs alone.

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