Since it is Labor Day, I thought I would rerun a post from several years back that is one of my favorites that very much has to do with one of the symbols of labor–the hands of the worker:
I have always regarded manual labour as creative and looked with respect – and, yes, wonder – at people who work with their hands. It seems to me that their creativity is no less than that of a violinist or painter.
I came across this shot of working hands and it made me think of how I’ve viewed hands through my life. I’ve always looked at people’s hands since I was a child. The liver spotted hands of my grandmother had thin ivory fingers that seemed like translucent china, for instance.
The hands of our landlord Art, an old farmer, were thick and strong and missing at least one digit down to the knuckle on several fingers, the result of an impatient personality and old farm machinery. Not a great match. I saw quite a few farmers with missing fingers.
Fat Jack, who I wrote about here a ways back, had hands whose nails were longer than you might expect and permanently rimmed with the black from the oil and grease of the machines on which he was always working. His hands were round and plump, like Jack himself, but surprisingly soft and nimble, good for manipulating the small nuts and bolts of his world.
There was a manager when I was in the world of automobiles who was a great guy but had extremely soft and damp hands. It was like handling a cool dead fish when you shook hands. A mushy, damp, boneless fish.
I admired working hands. They reflected their use so perfectly, the scars and callouses serving as badges of honor and the thick muscularity of the fingers attesting to the time spent at labor. They seemed honest with nothing to hide. They were direct indicators of that person’s life and world.
My own hands have changed over the years. They were once more like working hands, calloused and thickening from many hours spent with a shovel. There are a number of small scars from screwdrivers that jumped from the screwhead and into the flesh time and time again and another on the end of my middle finger from when I cut the very end of it off while trying to cut a leather strap with a hunting knife. Not a great idea.
I always felt confident when my hands were harder and stronger. Now, I have lost some of that thickness of strength and the fingers are thinner and a bit softer from doing less manual labor. I look at them now and wonder how I would have judged them when I was younger, when I measured a man by his hands, something that I don’t do now. I now know there are better ways to measure a life, that the work of the mind is now a possibility– something that seemed a million miles away then. But when I come across working hands, strong and hard, I find myself admiring them still.