My hands have many imperfections. My two middle fingers curve in toward each other before the tips turn up to the ceiling. White dots on my fingernails sporadically document my clumsiness. A white scar continues to fade on my left pinky knuckle. Despite imperfections, hands are powerful. Hands are the feature I always notice. Hands have the power to create with the stroke of a brush or the strum of a string. Hands spin webs of yarn to make blankets, hats and scarves. Closely trimmed nails with just a hint of white show careful attention to grooming. Fingers constantly stroking hair reveal an active mind. Drumming fingers expel a restless energy.

When barriers are down and vulnerability emerges, people reach out a hand. There’s such strength and warmth in hands which cannot be conveyed by mere words.  I work with some patients who cannot speak. One patient likes to run her fingers through my hair before grabbing my hand and pulling me close to her. Another patient wants to thank me for helping him to eat, and we exchange a series of hand squeezes and head nods. I leave his room with a full sense of his gratitude.

Enfolding a tiny hand in mine, I feel a protective nature of trust in the grasp. When my hand is enveloped by a stronger, more powerful one, I feel a sense of peace. Touch is underestimated and unnecessarily avoided. We seem to realize the importance and naturalness of it with infants and small children. We have no inhibitions when it comes to hugging a small child or patting their head affectionately. It’s fairly natural and uninhibited for me with the elderly as well. A daily hug and a hand placed on the shoulder is as natural as telling someone to have a great afternoon.

We shouldn’t have to be under the age of 5 or over 70 to experience the emotional power of touch. A friendly hand on my arm or a reassuring pat on my hand helps me to breathe more easily. In the subtle concluding wisdom of comedian Steve Smith on the Red Green Show, it seems to say: “Remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together.”



Small Talk

The sky is a pale blue and the air is warm on this March afternoon, but I’m lamenting that I can’t run after work. My running partner has an injury and I’m taking him to the doctor. During the post-work hours, I know the wait time will be long, and it’ll be too dark for even my solitary run once we return home.

Sighing as I grab the leash, Joffrey performs jump-turns in the air toward the front door. Hearing the word “ride” he chirp-barks his assent and eagerly hops into the car. Despite his excitement about all car destinations, going to the vet is an ordeal with this goldendoodle. I must tightly hold his leash at arm’s length as we check in, restraining him from hissing cats and scar-faced pit bulls. Then I’ll have to scan the room for our safest harbor, avoiding proximity with other big dogs as Joffrey reacts to them with barking bravado.

Today we settle in between a beagle mix and a Scottish terrier. Being amongst so many dog-people would usually be an instant ice breaker, easily drawing me into conversation. However, I’m also strongly averse to small talk. When it’s clear that a relationship will be limited to a 20 minute wait, my introversion calculator warns me against the investment. Avoiding eye contact, I twist Joffrey’s white spiral curls between my thumb and index finger as I stare at my phone.

“Rusty? Copper? Mittens?” Each name called moves us one step closer to getting out of this room. Finally, it’s “Joffrey?” and we’re off to the exam room. Joffrey is unusually cooperative as the young veterinarian examines the rusty-colored fur on his white paw.  A round of antibiotics is prescribed, and I’m cautioned to give my running buddy a week off from hitting the pavement. We head to the check-out line, which seems to have doubled since our arrival, and I sigh as I pull the leash tighter and join the queue.

High-pitched howls and whines fill the air as two large puppies swarm around their seated owner. Her pre-teen daughter waits in line, glancing awkwardly back at her struggling mother. The woman directly ahead of me strikes a contrast in our scene. Dressed in black pants and a red velvet blouse, she calmly watches this play out with a small smile on her face. She leans toward me and compliments my dog’s comparatively good behavior, and I feel a guilty and rare sense of pride, as Joffrey is not famous for his calm demeanor. We both agree that this mom has her hands full, quite literally, and more prudent planning would have included a pair of leashes. The daughter leaves her position in line to help her mother, and they each grab a puppy and head out the door.

The line shortens, and the woman says she and her husband have always had dogs, but today is she here to “pick up” her dog. My mind processes her sad tone, and I meet her eyes as she tells me that she is picking up the dog’s ashes. They’ve always had dogs, but this one is the last one. Travel. Grandchildren.  And perhaps a few unspoken reasons—such as other trips like this one.  I tell her about taking my pug a few years ago, and how we got Joffrey soon after that. She opens her phone to show me a picture of her recent loss—a coppery brown retriever mix looking up from his blue cushion dog bed. He was adorable. Yes, she agrees, and such a good dog.

The clinic phone has been ceaselessly ringing. Intermittently one of the clerks will answer it with a curt and rehearsed line imploring the caller to hold. There’s a good deal of eye rolling and terse responses as one of the clerks tells a caller that they have “a line out the door.” Even as I understand her ire—she’s not getting paid enough for this—I silently pray she will muster some compassion in her voice for this woman ahead of me.

“Can I help who’s next?” We exchange polite goodbyes as she moves to the head of the line, and I am grateful that she is swiftly moved through the process and is out the door so that she can grieve privately. We’re making our own exit as the mother returns with only one puppy in tow. She’s figuring it out. Some day she’ll be the one in line with the “good” dog. Some day she’ll be the one on a more somber visit. Right now, she’s just getting started.

My Treasure

Glass rectangular boxes with shiny silver frames stand in two rows before me. The chunky metal handles are cool to the touch as I turn each in hopes that a glitch in the system will produce a free prize. Each box tantalizingly displays the most coveted items on the front. Will I receive a pair of tiny handcuffs, a whoopee cushion, or a bracelet filled with sparkling green glitter?

The bottom row is more predictable. A few clicks of the handle pours out a handful of Runts, Reece’s Pieces, or a round ball of colorful gum. This is the sure bet—but I’m not fooled. The anticipation of the loot in the top machines is what I live for on these grocery store visits.

I shift from one foot to the other in my dirty Keds as my yellow ponytail sways back and forth. Already hoping for the quarter that Mom may give to me, I peek beyond the cashier to see how close she is to the end of the checkout line. She sees me watching and nods my way. I smile and just know one of these treasures will soon be mine. My window shopping will not be in vain.

Customers pass by me in the doorway as Mom strains to watch me beyond the passing bodies. I hold her gaze and she becomes reassured as the crowd thins and she turns to pay. I’m still smiling as a woman begins to shuffle past me, her uneven gait causing me to stare longer than a few polite seconds. She has a black leather change purse in her hands, open with the silver knobs pulled apart. Before I can open my mouth to protest she is pressing two quarters into my small hand and nodding toward the machines. She shuffles out the door as I look for Mom, unsure of what to do with this unexpected gift from a stranger. When Mom arrives moments later, her brow furrows and she looks towards the doors in a futile attempt to glimpse my benefactor. It’s too late. She has disappeared into the bright summer afternoon, and now it’s a different head that nods towards the machines.

What precious prize did I receive from my windfall that afternoon? Was it a disappointing neon green sticky hand that became ruined the moment I dropped it in the dirt? Was it a pack of trick gum that would snap the finger of some unsuspecting friend? My memory has wiped out those details long ago. What has persisted for over 30 years is the kindness of one woman who saw a small but meaningful chance to brighten one little girl’s day. She has given me the gift of a lifetime.