Last month I helped host a family reunion. This is part 2 of a 3 part post on my observations. Where the first talked about eyes, this one talks about hands.
"You are only as happy as your least happy child" I remember a friend saying. The older I get, the truer that statement seems. As I looked at the pictures from the reunion, I was struck by one where eighty year old hands were holding a book about life - the triumphs and losses. I thought of the courage it must have taken these past few years to remain a pillar of strength.
Hands.. when I was young, I was told I should play the piano. People said my long slender fingers would lend themselves to the beauty of playing music. Hopeful, I imagined myself playing an instrument. As a teenager, "Moles" (See under reflections: Impact of other people on you) would tell me, I should be a hand model because the shape of my nails was delicate and pretty. I imagined my life to be grand and important. In my early twenties, because of my sheer determination to be financially independent, I worked as a certified nurse's assistant in private home healthcare. Staying with a husband and wife until their gradual death over a two year period, my hands bore the weight of that responsibility. Each wrinkle became cracked and sore. Only cortisone shots could stop my hands from bleeding. In my thirties and forties, my hands helped to raise our three children; now at fifty, my hands have aged.
As I was caught up in the details of planning and then pulling together my three children from different parts of California to attend the family reunion, I was so tuned into the details, that I forgot about the emotion. So much so, that it felt as though I was standing at the edge of the Pacific Ocean when an unexpected wave knocked me over. That wave was seeing Nana's sister. My eyes filled with tears. Seeing her brought back memories; they flooded my soul like oxygen to breathing.
In October 2005, Billy Crystal released his book, 700 Sundays. It was so popular, the book was converted to a play on Broadway and most recently an HBO special. Having read the book and then seeing the production, I remember I loved both the book and play and decided to read about Crystal to see if it was an appropriate addition to this post.
I stumbled upon this interview between Billy Crystal and Ellen DeGeneres which talks about 700 Sundays becoming an HBO special. In his usual funny approach, Crystal describes growing up in a Jewish family and the characters that surrounded him. My Italian family was not unlike his Jewish one. Ours was a vibrant Italian family rich in culture, characters and quotes. Immigrating from Italy to New York and eventually to Calif, there were always great stories to hear.
Every summer, I went to Nana and Papa's house for at least one week. Although we saw them on a regular basis, it was this one-on-one time I enjoyed so dearly. I sometimes helped Nana volunteer at the hospital or sometimes we went into San Francisco to see a play or go to the movies. I always got $100 for "back to school" shopping where I managed to stretch every penny and "modeled" my purchases for Papa at the end of the day - but mostly, we stayed around the house. I swung in the outside swing, listened to music, worked on crafts or helped with the cooking or chores.
Regardless of what we did early in the day, by 4:00 pm, it was time to rest. Sitting in her favorite spot, feet up on a pillow and the current talk show on in the background, Nana took a rest. It was the only time in the day where I had to be quiet. She woke up early, stayed up late; the house was always impeccably clean, dinner prepared and she even freshened up her make-up before Papa got home. Listening to this interview on the Ellen Show for this post even brought back memories of those early days for me. In a way, that is what family reunions are all about.
My son, at the age of 3 would take his father's face in his hands and boldly proclaim, "dad-listen to me". The great thing about kids is their total abandonment to emotion. They have not been jaded with the protocol of anything or anyone. Their communication is innocent, honest and true. Whether it was me standing in the crib yelling or him with his desire to be heard, a voice is all we have.
As I was working with the older couple in my twenties, I had saved a poem about hands. In writing this post, I searched for that poem. I didn't find it but instead came across a bunch of poems, journals and notes I had written. One was from a class I had taken in college. It was about the book Don Quixote. As the class filled a requirement, my expectations were low. Stepping into that book, accompanied with the symbolism, humor and passion taught by a little, soft-spoken man in his 70's, the book came alive.
Don Quixote was written in 1605 (part I) and 1615 (part 2) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra who was born on Sept 29, 1547 and died the same day as William Shakespeare on April 22, 1616 (later disputed to April 23rd). In this class, two men that changed the literary world, writing of everyday tragedies and loves, were transforming my world and challenging me to think more keenly about my own life. As I thought about Nana, Papa and Terri, their tortoise (Terri who lived more than 50 years of their 64 years of married life ), I thought of the characters of Don Quixote. Ordinary, every day people, a turtle and an extraordinary amount of love.
Helping hands, praying hands, working hands and hopeful hands - whatever your story says.... say it in love.
A person who searches for depth and beauty in the simple things.