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Grasping Her Story This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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Some people say it is the hands, not the eyes, that provide the most revealing insights into a person's character. At every stage in life, our hands enable exploration, salutation, and even self-protection. Newborns cling to their mothers’ breasts while nursing. Toddlers use the strength of their hands to hoist themselves to their feet. Teenagers cling to their beloved phones. Adults toil to earn their next paycheck. As our number one companions, hands hold the memories and experiences that have shaped our own inner selves.

Since hands are a commonly portrayed subject in the art world, I was hardly surprised when, as an assignment for one of my art classes, I was asked to paint a pair of hands. I instinctively looked down at my own unremarkable fingers and smooth, uncharted palms. These would not do. Instead, my mind wandered to memories of my recently-deceased grandmother, whose hands had always symbolized years of hard work, passion, and gentle care. As I envisioned her hands, I could almost feel her warm, reassuring touch against my skin.

My grandmother’s hands were graceful. She used to be a piano teacher at a prestigious music school in Moscow, Russia. For thirty years, her hands beckoned students into the classroom, gave them reassuring pats on the back, and physically guided their fingers to technical perfection. When she immigrated to Boston in the early 90s, my grandmother got a position as an accompanist for the Boston Ballet Training School and continued her love of teaching by offering private lessons to numerous students from across the city. Twenty years later, she had moved her piano playing to the comfort of her home, often providing impromptu soundtracks at family gatherings.

On my fourth birthday, my grandmother sat me down on the wooden bench facing her piano. She gently grasped my hand and traced the piano keys with my own small, immaculate fingers. I marveled at the percussive sound that bellowed from the giant instrument, a sound that conveyed both clarity and depth. After our weekly mini lessons (during which I realized that playing piano was not, in fact, my future calling), I would beg my grandmother to play a piece from her own repertoire. I watched her perfectly trimmed and polished nails click lightly on the keys as she brought Tchaikovsky’s Valse-scherzo to life. As the song became faster and more dramatic, her hands flew up and down the canvas with the utmost grace and precision, creating melody and harmony from nothing.

At the same time, my grandmother’s hands were strong. I noticed that every spring, they would become rough and calloused from hours of pulling weeds, planting flowers, and clenching shovels as she strived to transform the patch of land behind her house into a green oasis. “Come outside and help me,” she would yell in Russian. “You need your vitamin D!” During our frequent walks around the neighborhoods, I clutched her strong hand whenever we crossed the street, and I immediately knew that I was safe under her watch. Those were the same hands that tenderly rocked me when I was sick, that bandaged up my numerous “owies,” that held out the towel after I waded out of the ocean shivering. Those were the same hands that braided my hair whenever I would spend the night, that dished out generous helpings of homemade ice cream, that cleaned every mess without complaint. Above all, those were the hands that wove the fabric of our family history.

My hands are not my grandmother’s hands. To this day, I cannot sew, cook three-course meals, or play a piano concerto. Instead, my hands paint, type on a computer, pull the handle of an oar, and hold #2 pencils. Yet, as different as they are, my own hands can help share the story of my grandmother, whose hands nurtured, fed, taught, and protected a family to remember her always. Now, as my gaze wanders to the blank canvas in front of me, I slowly but surely dip the paintbrush into ink. My hands begin to paint her story.



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Sunanda said...
May 13 at 4:24 am:
This is beautiful! :) 
 
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