August 3, 2011
I notice people's hands. When they meet mine, I notice the softness of skin or the build up of calluses, I notice strength of fingers, gentleness of touch and dexterity of movement. Hands never lie. They betray our passions and pass-times; they tell strangers how we spend our time and can indicate pieces of our personality that may otherwise take many heart to heart conversations to reveal.
I probably look at my own hands several hundred times a day, usually in passing. Perhaps it is when I grate fresh carrots and beets for a salad, gather eggs from the nesting box, bring a cup of water to my thirsty lips, pull weeds from amongst the broccoli or give a massage to a sore neck and shoulders. Sometimes it is more intentional, like when I tend to or examine new cuts or scrapes or clean dirt from under my fingernails and from within the crevices of my fingers and palms. However it is, I am constantly noticing my hands.
Recently, I have been noticing that my hands are changing. For several months now, as I catch a glimpse of my hands when placing them on the steering wheel or when typing on the computer, my eyes stay focused on my hands for longer. It's as if my mind is wondering "whose hands are these?" and trying to account for the discrepancy between what was expected and what is. For a while I have been trying to ignore these lingering eyes, these passing thoughts, because I know the reason my hands are changing and quite frankly it scares me.
Some people say that our path in life chooses us; others may prefer to think that we choose our path; but regardless, whatever path we are on, it changes us. Not just what or who we know, or how we spend our time, but it literally changes us, our physical bodies. And since our physical bodies are the very finely tuned instrument through which we experience this complex and beautiful world, changes in our bodies mean changes in the way we experience the world and thus the way we think.
I recently turned 26 and much has happened to me in the time I have lived here at Windward. Perhaps some of these experiences are ones that would happen to me in this time of my life wherever I lived; but the vast majority are specific to my choice to live here, on this plateau, with these people, in this ecosystem. The choice to be here is one that I make every day. All of life has its uncertainties, though it seems that a life lived on a path less travelled has more.
Perhaps this is part of the reason I choose it, every day when the morning light casts the branches of the Ponderosas in a golden hue, because I'd rather the uncertainty that comes with a life in which I am responsible for my own well being than the perceived certainties of a life in which my health and security are subject to the decisions of people I have never met. Because I know that in truth, the outcome is never truly known or controllable, but it is far more so, when I and those closest to me are responsible for it.
But more, I choose this life for the deep and satisfied feeling that comes at the end of a day of splitting wood, watering plants, preparing and eating food grown with care, sharing laughter and love when I know I have access to all that is necessary to lead a good life.
I am either pretentious or ignorant enough to think I actually might know the purpose of this life, the foundations of what it means to be human--at least for me. And I remind myself of it almost daily--to do what is meaningful to me (be it creative or spiritual, contributing to the larger human community or helping those close to me); to be an engaged and responsible participant in the ecosystem that provides for me (being both a witness to and actively helping to further the cycles of life‒and so much of this is wrapped up in eating food, grown, harvested and prepared by myself or friends); and spending quality time with the people I care about (sharing in and experiencing to the fullest what this life has to offer).
Yet it is one thing to guess at the meaning of life‒because that is what these are, are guesses‒another to write about it and still another to look down and see that my hands are being changed, my thoughts are being changed, I am being changed, by giving my body over to this simple, but oh so complicated, good life.
Being changed is not the scary part, I expect that and welcome it. What is scary is the passing of time necessary to be changed and the physical changes to my body that need to occur to allow for the change of thought processes, perspective and awareness. My hands carry on them the physical marks of time‒of once painful wounds that have since healed, of sun unrelentingly beating down on the backs of my hands day after day after day, of touching soil, bark, stone and tools every day for what has become years.
For with time, comes aging. And while I have long looked forward to when I am in my fifties and even eighties, I have never experienced so clearly in my own body the implications of the passage of time. When I look at my hands and I see what is noticeably‒to my eyes and perhaps my eyes alone‒looser skin and more wrinkles, I am reminded that by body likes also to rest more throughout the day, that I respond differently to hours of vigorous activity, and that it's harder for me to stay up late into the night than it was, say, 5 years ago. And this scares me. Aging is one of those things that you just have to experience for yourself to really understand it, and until now I cannot say that I have really felt the impacts of time passing on my body.
But hands don't lie. And I see in mine how everyday my story is rewritten on them. They tell of how I made bread, or harvested a rabbit or used the chainsaw. And so they tell of what my life is made; the materials, the smells, the textures, the activities, and hint at who I am.
Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71