I do not fuss much over my hands or fingernails. For instance, I do not have the habit of or budget for getting regular professional manicures. It's not that I'm against the idea of doing so, it's just that time and resources always seem better spent some other way, like in going out for a glass of wine with friends or buying a nice cut of meat to put on the barbeque. Or saving up for a trip to Italy. Stuff like that.
The only time I can recall ever having fake nails put on was for my sister's wedding, and even then they only lasted about a half an hour because I forgot and caught a football. So you might say I don't have the budget for fussing with my nails and I don't have the personality for it either. In fact, I have always just kept my nails clipped short and if I polish them I apply clear or neutral polish.
Beyond budget and personality, I don't really have, aesthetically speaking, the hands for fussing over. I have sturdy (a friend's mother once used the word chubby) fingers, the kind that require medium-to-large sized rings in order not to look like sausage links with nail beds. I could not have been more shocked, then (and a little irritated) that a boyfriend once said that the thing that first attracted him to me was my hands. It's not hard to see why it didn't work out for us.
So the fact that I had a mini-crisis over my hands and nails this week is noteworthy.
Over the last several days I have been helping some new friends to ready their property for a Saturday wedding show. Since the property is a rock quarry that was landscaped with trucked in soil and sand, it must be drained regularly with the use of huge pumps (think Holland). Add to this the fact that, as anyone knows who has followed the Vancouver Olympics, which are just north of here, conditions in this part of the world of late have been mild and wet. Very wet. Hence, my work on the property this week has been nothing but mud-mucking, glove-soaking and hand-numbing.
Last night I caught a glimpse of my hands. I was about to go out the door to the grocery store. As I grabbed my keys, my fingernails, particularly, caught my eye. I didn't recognize them as my own. They looked ghoulishly under-the-nail-tip-tar-filled manicured. They looked old and weathered. They looked like they belonged to a man. A man who worked bare-handed in sewage.
I turned my hands over and inspected. The creases in my palms were dark and I briefly thought of those artsy, brightly colored close-up photographs of a coffee grower's hands you see hanging in chic, eco-friendly coffee shops. Except these hands--my hands--didn't look artsy. They looked filthy.
I turned my hands palms-down and inspected my knuckles. Red scratches ran across my dried skin that looked like tiny willow branches. Slightly scabby, red willow branches. I then realized that my hands had begun healing before I even realized I had scraped them.
For someone who does not think about her hands often, I sure was thinking about them a lot now. And I wasn't too pleased. Something about taking my very dirty fingernail beds and red-scratched, black-creased hands out in public struck me as slightly obscene. I didn't want these hands handing money to the cashier, swiping the debit card, holding a glass of wine at the restaurant.
I looked at them again in the light and thought about the back-breaking work these hands had accomplished the previous days. I chose to respect them a little rather than feel shame or disdain. Working with one's hands was good, right? The Bible says that, doesn't it? So there's nothing wrong with dirty hands, yeah? Well, nothing unless one cares about what others think or assume when they see a pair of dirty, laborer's hands.
It hit me. The same impulse that caused me shame about my dirty hands was what had been prompted me all week as I worked to tell the owners that what I am "really" doing with my life is finishing my SECOND master's (sniff, sniff) and planning to move into my chosen field. My poor, tired, scratched hands weren't the problem. The problem was my pride and insecurity. All my hands did was betray that I'm not exactly where I want to be right now and that there is pride in my heart about that.
Again, I looked at my hands. Before I applied soap to them, I decided to give my hands a little deserved dignity. I snapped a photo of them; you know like one of those cool, artsy close-ups you see in a chic coffee shop.
3 hours ago