On Hands

Show me Hands …..

The  hands of a mother walking her baby into life
Hands that  soothe a troubled brow
and caress tired shoulders,
clear  a frown

Tender hands that wipe away  tears  of pain
Hands that are never quiet
That   wash and clean and bind and knead
and shape and mould and  sometimes plead.

Show me the gentle  hands of the lover
Warm hands, caressing hands, tender hands
hands that soothe the “ravelled sleeve of care”
hands that show love unasked
fingers that say without any words, “I love you”.
Even to point out mistakes and to help in putting them right.

You might know the hands of which I speak
Hands that must obey that primordial instinct
To create….
So, show me hands that compose the music of the spheres
And bring it to our ears,
so we must  listen
Even for a few moments, transformed.
Hands that capture our deepest feelings
In quatrains or in sonnets, in  blank verse or in prose
So we read them and understand
Hands that show human strengths, human failings,
The  beauty of a world teetering on the edge of extinction
To preserve it with ink and paint and canvas.
So we view them and are mindful.

Let us not forget the hands that sow seeds, and plant, dig wells,
Construct and build, create new things,  
Hands that reap what they have sown for the good
With gratitude.
Yes, show me those hands.
Hands stretched  out in welcome
Hands  waving  fond farewells;
The hands that give are   hands
Open to receive.


Show me hands that  write words of love
Of forgiveness
Of gratitude
Of advice
Of friendship
Of invitations
Of condolence
Of gentle remonstrance
Of pleading,
Of courage  

Words that are white flags of peace
Words that ease the pain of a broken heart

I want to look at the calloused hands of a father working ceaselessly
To provide for his family
And even though he might not say  words
His hands can also caress a tousled head  or wipe away a tear
or fix what is broken.
Show me those hands.

I prefer not to see those hands
That can only destroy, abuse, cause pain,
Become violent against  the weak.
Keep my gaze away from hands that hold guns
With  fingers ready to pull a trigger without care,
Wield  a knife,
or pull the bow that shoots the arrow of misfortune;
Consider those hands that are the willing tools
of evil brains
That produce  weapons of war
Causing innocent blood to flow

When other gentler hands must bathe the dead
And dig the graves to hold them.

I prefer not to acknowledge
Hands that hold a poison pen.
Do not show me  a hand  that refuses to give help,
or even to receive it
What are those hands  to me
Except impediments to a better world?

Give me those hands that give life to a sick and broken  body
That administer the anodyne of life
Like  the deft hands of the surgeon
and the gentle hands of a nurse
Give me those hands that point the straight way to a student
Who will, in turn, do the same for others
Give me hands that remove the stone that blocks
the path of a traveler
when other hands did not.
Those are the hands worth looking at.
These are  the same  hands
That will lift towards heaven
Asking for help, and saying  “Thank you”,
To ask for guidance and to receive it.

on “Aging”

I got up at 5:45 this morning and went to the bathroom to clean my teeth and brush my grey hair. When I looked into the mirror, I saw a face that surely didn’t belong to me. That was the face of a stranger; a face that I had not seen before. Eyes wide, mouth open, I stared in mild shock.

It was the face of an old woman, with lines and sad eyes and wild hair, down turned lips. 

Old, old…unrecognizable.

Then, the face smiled, and I recognized it as my own. Laughter lines can change the way we look as well as the way we feel and how others see us.  Laughter doesn’t recognize age.  I think that my first impression of shock at looking into the mirror was because I was wearing the eyes of a young woman. Deep within my subliminal, is a perpetually young girl. It was me at 17 looking at me at 77 and not recognizing myself. 

Our bodies get old with the passing years. Our ability to be active and nimble, to dance and run, to skip, work hard diminishes imperceptibly with each day. Some of us refuse to admit it, others fight it with surgery, pills, exercise, while others just give in to the change.

I have always wanted to accept growing old gracefully and joyfully.  Age has its rewards. You have a family to gather around you, grandchildren, memories to dwell on. Most of all, you have the wisdom that comes from living life to the full, in all its facets. You have the gravitas, the position, the right (de jure and de facto) to tell people what you think without fear of reprisal. People tend to respect your opinion too.

My best friend of more years than I can recall told me the other day that her kids still think of her as the solid rock, the pillar, the solver of all problems, the center of their lives. I told her that my children feel exactly the same way. Ask mom. Mom will know. Mom has been the go-to person all their lives. Mom the repository of wisdom to dispense.

We both agreed that it can become wearisome and burdensome. We both agreed that we want to lay that load down now and just sit quietly in the sun and reminisce, and then we both admitted to each other that it was a fool’s errand and wishful thinking.
We will NEVER give up. That is a tenured position. Ours for life.

In a conversation with my granddaughter the other day about work, she told me, “Nanny, you are full of those Guyanese aphorisms.”  I told her that the wisdom behind those aphorisms has been learned over the years, and that they help us understand and accept what life offers.

BUT OLD is as OLD feels.

Deep down inside me there is still a young girl wishing to devour romance novels, while snacking on green mangoes with salt and pepper. Somewhere in my heart lies hidden the desire to run and dance and sing, sing, sing – in gladness to be alive. To be beautiful.  And healthy.  Somewhere deep down, there is still a bubble that will burst and reveal thoughts that can bring blushes. Thoughts about boys. And wonder why they are so contrary.

Play practical jokes on my friends. Think about a special person.  And wonder why my heart is beating so fast.  Share deep, unholy secrets with a sister – secrets that might cause my revered father to blush and my prim mother to scold for days. Walk down to the bridge over the canal to read my book.  Look at the moving water and dream…

Walk home in the gloaming with the shepherd behind the sheep and goats.  Run, hands spread wide, across the golden fields of ripening paddy.   Capture the birds’ nests.  Climb trees to pick the ripening fruit.  Fish for snook and catfish in the canals.

Time passed. 

I became a teacher.  Motherhood came and with it, the responsibility of raising my family to the best of my ability while holding down a full-time job.  If I’ve done anything good with my life, it’s that I have three of the best children.  It didn’t come easy. No time for doing the things most desirous; no time to dawdle with unimportant but joyful things; no time to sit and have a good cry when things go wrong.

Just keep going. 
Do what comes next. 
Just try your best.
One thing at a time.

If I wanted something, I knew the best way to get it was to work for it.  No one would drop it in my lap.  I never wanted, nor expected that. 

So here I am at 77.  With an old woman’s face.  An old woman’s body.  A body that has accepted the passage of time, I hope with grace.  I hope that even so, I can still smile, still play a practical joke or two on my family.  My heart is big and young with my love for my family.   My thoughts have lagged behind in a place where youth lives.  Those thoughts enjoy living in that place.   Sweet nostalgic moments, youthful exuberance and innocence – looking at the world before me.

And, so, ever so often, I visit those thoughts back there in time.  And then, as I commune with them, I THINK young even if I can’t DO young.

ON COURTESY – A Saving Grace

As a very young child in a preparatory class in school, I, along with the other pupils, was made to memorize the words on a leaflet stuck on the wall of the schoolroom. The teacher read from the very small print and made us repeat what was written on it to commit it to memory. I don’t recall the order in which things were written, but I do recall that there were many more than the ones mentioned here. The first maxim remains in my memory as being at the top of the list.

Courtesy Rules and Maxims

Speak quietly and courteously. Quiet speech is a mark of refinement.
Do not spit about. It is insanitary and a dirty habit.
Tip your hat when you pass someone on the street.
Remove your hat when you enter a building.
Eat with your mouth closed.
Do not use bad language to others.
Greet your elders when you meet them.
Be kind to others. Kindness is the hallmark of good conduct.

I do not know how many of these maxims are still a part of our social discourse and conduct, but in my scheme of things those are guiding principles.

Last night, I listened to Vice President, Joe Biden at a town hall meeting in Miami hosted by Lester Holt.
The Vice President spoke very clearly and eloquently. His honesty, his passion and his integrity were very evident. One of the things that resonated with me, not so political but more ethical and moral, was that we need to practice the social grace of good conduct in private as well as in public. We need to be more courteous and kind to each other. We need to recognize each other as equal members of the same society in which we live, “brothers in humanity”. This, he said, was the way to rebuild our broken and fragmented American society and end the suspicion and hate that color our thoughts and actions.

The Arabs refer to this as “husnul khuluq” or beautiful behavior in private and public. (Dr. Yasir Qadhi on “The Blessings of Good Manners: Khutbah delivered on 11/15/2013).

The Caliph Umar bin Khattab once said, “When you meet a man on the street, he is either your brother in religion or your brother in humanity”.
The Prophet (SAW) said, “A true believer is one who does not hurt others with his thoughts, words or actions.”

“The best of you is he (or she) who is of most benefit to others.”
(Prophet Muhammad)

Of public concern should be the manner in which we comport ourselves in private as well as in public. Limits should be set with infractions to these limits being impugned and the culprit socially ostracized or we all must be held culpable and accountable.

Cultivation of good manners, deportment and courtesy must be a matter of public concern because it leads to respect for others and is the hallmark of a peaceful society. Our tendency must be to behave with gentleness, decorum and propriety in that space that lies between legal mandate and free choice. It is in that space that we choose to behave within the set limits or to become social pariahs by breaking the common societal rules and norms.

I heard these words a very long time ago and I paraphrase, “A polite society runs smoothly on the wheels of courtesy”. It is what makes people conscious of their roles and responsibilities to each other in a civilized sphere of life. We, as members of a civilized social community, set up rules and limitations for polite behavior that will protect and uphold the safety, the honor and integrity, the health, the possessions, the self-esteem, the wellbeing of the families of those who belong to that social group.
Behavior that exemplifies decorum and civility, benevolence and kindness, humility and quiet speech, gentleness and politeness must be the hallmark of our social discourse. These attributes will make others feel at ease in the presence of those who display them. This is the quintessence of courtesy- making others feel at ease in your presence. This behavior attracts others to the one who displays it.

Maya Angelou wrote, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.” For good or for bad, people remember how you made them feel.

If we examine the ten commandments of Moses or the tenets of any religion, we will find that they are really rules for correct conduct in any society – “Husnul Khuluq”.

Joe Biden, last night, hinted that many people will think of the practice of courteous behavior as “old fashioned”, as anachronistic, out of date, not in keeping with modern thought and behavior.

Why should this be so? Have we moved so far away from the practice of courteous behavior in private and in public that we should think of polite conduct as an anachronism?
If so, with what have we replaced it?
Laughing at those who have physical defects?
Lying and cheating? We lie and cheat on those who are members of our society. How is that a good thing?
Stealing from the poor?
Thinking of yourself as better than the “common herd” because you are rich?
Public displays of boorish conduct?
Use of bad language?
Insulting the vulnerable in the presence of others?
Dishonoring others in their absence?
Ignoring those we see as beneath us?

The ideal of courtesy has been eroded by the practice of these kinds of behaviors. Rudeness, loud speech, aggression, highlighting the physical defects of the weak and the vulnerable are the enemies of courtesy.

Arrogance vs. humility, dishonor vs. integrity, falsehoods vs. truth, divisiveness vs mediation and peace- making permeate the social and political status quo.
How are you? Please. Thank you, Do you mind? May I? Excuse me, please? Would you rather..? given with innate grace and not gratuitously, show a genuine concern for the feelings of others.

Saying “Thank you” to those who serve – the mailman, the waitress, the shop assistant, the post office attendant, the garbage collector, the maid – asking an employee about his wellbeing, showing concern for the wellbeing for those under our care and employ, helping those in need of it, speaking with concern and kindness, restraint from insulting or admonishing others in public to cause them to lose face, the practice of these must be born out of an inbred instinct to make others feel good and at ease in our presence.

There is no excuse for vulgarity, none for boorish behavior, no amount of goodwill must overlook rudeness, the tendency that using foul language is the hallmark of wit. Heaven forbid.
When some among us give credence to such social practices, they create a new set of rules for hostile, and impolite conduct which can result in violence, in hatred, in resentment among the members of the social group.

THEN, if and when we have all accepted the new standard of behavior, that is when we will descend like Lucifer in Milton’s Paradise Lost into chaos, to public animalistic behavior. Our “brave new world”!

Cultivating, preserving, and upholding the old forms of correct social conduct, those Courtesy Rules and Maxims, must be seen as a social mandate, a contract, and as a tribute to the best in each of us. The social ethos in which we now find ourselves is fracturing, falling apart, with some members holding on to the sanity of proper conduct, while others are bent on destroying it.

This descent to social chaos bodes ill for everyone.
Let us not descend into that chaos ourselves.