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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Holding Hands in the Night

When I was a kid, no more than 13 or 14 years old, my first girlfriend - if you could call her that - offered me an invaluable lesson about life, although I didn't realize it at the time.  In fact, it's only now, a middle aged man (late middle aged, in point of fact) lying in bed with my wife in the middle of the night - it's only now that I've come to realize the lesson's full import.

Suzie was her name, cute as a button she was, with long blond hair, thick and long, cascading all the way down her back.  She was at least a year older than me, far more experienced in the ways of the world, though still virginic and regal in her bearing in point of fact.  We met at boarding school in the first and only semester of my soon-to-be-aborted boarding school career.

I was a wild one, a restless colt always pawing the dirt, and you can readily imagine how I would eagerly paw Suzie when we met on the great lawn usually a half an hour before lights out.  In an utterly becalming manner Suzie was able to still my ardor. We would stand in the dark together and hold hands.  She smiled beatifically as she explained that holding hands is a kind of sex all its own through which you can share and learn everything you need to know about someone else.

What did I know? Suzie would squeeze my hands hard enough to make them hurt, as all the energy flowed through us and filled up the night, making the stars shimmer with anticipation and desire just like a Van Gogh painting. And then the release as Suzie let go, and the energy reversed itself, making my very soul ache.

I knew less than nothing really but now, lying here in bed tonight, next to my wife whom I love with all my might, holding her hand as we lie awake in the night, I remember Suzie, and my youthful inchoate state, so impatient for life to begin, and I realize that Suzie was and still is absolutely right.

By Brad Melamed, from his 2017 series Extension Cords 

Handiwork is a distinguishing feature of our species and utterly indispensible to human civilization – the best we are capable of is most often a direct result of our manual labor.  Just think of all the creative energy that flows through our nimble forearms and down through our fingertips, making possible virtually all of our mechanical ingenuity and fine artistry – everything from deft needlepoint, drumming and guitar strumming to brain surgery and single stroke fresco mastery, we are unsurpassed in the range of what we can express and produce with our hands.  Which is not say that humans aren’t capable of great artistry even when our forelimbs are compromised by injury or birth defect, as the writer Christy Brown, who typed with his toes, demonstrated -- hands are by no means essential to our creative self-expression – it’s just that when we are ambidextrously blessed self-expression comes that much more readily to us – conveying our thoughts and feelings, whether through subtle brushstrokes or clamorously with castanets, by full and fruitful use of our two hands.

“Hands have their own histories, as the poet Rilke says. “They even have their own culture and their own beauty.  We grant them the right to have their own development, their own wishes, feelings, moods and occupations.”

So our hands are not just tools or implements that carry out the commands of our brains.  They are finely calibrated instruments in their own right, bundles of nerves not unlike antennae, through which we gather and impart information about the world.  Energy courses through us radially and passes out through our fingertips in an effortless way; but with a modicum of effort we can learn to control and better direct that flow; we can begin to wield our hands like batons or wands or dowsing rods, in order to conduct energy and impart a spark with or without directly touching whatever it is we’re working out.  They are essential conductors of human electricity – our primary means of positive exchange with the world, most of all life’s give and take.  

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