I have recently discovered about myself that I have a strange preoccupation with hands. I constantly pick at my fingernails, I tap on desks and I notice peculiarities and distinguishing features of my own and the hands of people around me.
Perhaps it is evolutionarily driven or perhaps it is the English literature major in me, but I am always drawn back to the deep symbolism of the human hand.
When I was studying in Sicily, we visited an old 1900’s museum where we were to learn to make bread the “old-fashioned” way. Before we began, one of my professors began to speak about the importance of working with your hands. Evolutionarily, he said, the complex brains that we have now developed due greatly to the use of our hands. We are one of the few creatures that came to have opposable thumbs, and were able, by that mutation, to use our hands in much more dexterous and intricate ways.
I am not an evolutionary scientist, nor do I claim to have a perfect memory in regards to the actual theory or science, but it makes sense to me to imagine that as our physical capabilities increased, our mental capabilities followed suit. I read somewhere recently that walking barefoot stimulates neurons in the brain, generating new neural connections and physically remapping it. I imagine that something similar happened as we began using our hands more and more.
As my professor painted this picture of humanity’s neural development, I could not help but think of all of the ways we use our hands and how suggestive they are of our conception of our own humanity. I type these words using dexterity that few other creatures have. We write, we draw, we build, we cook and, yes you guessed I was coming to it, we grow. We plunge our hands back into the earth from whence they came, we plant seeds, nurture and and then harvest them. With our hands we gather our bounty and feed our families, our loved ones, our entire communities.
Working with our hands does not only allow for creativity, it perpetuates it. It stimulates us intellectually, drawing us back to our humanity. So much in the world is moving towards ease, automation, hands-free for the sake of luxury, but sacrificing personal connection.
Yes, when I think of hands, I realize that we must continue to hold on to our humanity. To dig in, get our fingernails dirty and grow something, build something towards the future without giving up the true texture of life.