I have my father's hands.
Not that they're overwhelmingly mannish, but they're not petite or graceful. I don't have long, tapering fingertips or beautifully-shaped nails or flawless skin. They're not the sort of hands you'll ever see in a cold cream advertisement, not the kind you could easily imagine playing a long, complex sonata on the piano. There are diagonal scars striped across my knuckles from when I brushed my hand against the bars of the kerosene heater in junior high, lines and freckles sprinkled across the back of my hand, and a writing callus -- not as pronounced since I learned to type -- on the middle finger of my right hand.
They're not pretty hands. But they're my father's hands.
They resemble the hands that cradled me when I was hours old. The hands that drew a sketch of me and my brothers for a Christmas card. The hands that held me firmly as I was baptized, or were placed atop my head for a blessing. The hands that steadied the back of my bicycle seat as I wobbled awkwardly down the road. The hands that held up kites, applied countless Band-Aids, picked tomatoes and chard, and worked the stick shift of our orange VW microbus.
They look like the hands that were extended to so many other people in friendship. The hands that drew logos and designed advertisements, album covers and product packaging for businesses all around the San Francisco Bay Area. The hands raised in a public meeting to ask why developers were destroying his children's favorite place to play. The hands that held other hands, or steadied a small body riding on his shoulders, as we walked up Lime Ridge together. The hand held over his heart as he recited the Pledge of Allegiance at a Boy Scout meeting. The hands he sometimes used to toss his children in the air, and catch them again as they squealed and giggled. The hands that could create beautiful calligraphy, but had trouble writing legibly. The hands folded in prayer, as he talked to God as though He were in the room with us.
I know they're not physically beautiful. But they're meaningful to me, because my father -- at least the physical part of him -- is gone. And although I believe and take comfort from the belief that his spirit literally continues to exist, it means I will not see him again as long as I live.
There is another kind of comfort to be had when I look at my hands. They are more than just a reminder of my father; they are a living reminder that so many aspects of our ancestors are present in us. We are more than our genes, to be certain -- but there have been so many people who came before us and who gave up so much as an act of faith, in the belief that their sacrifices would help create more opportunities for their children and grandchildren. That's well worth remembering, and worth honoring.
In a way, you could say my father bequeathed his hands to me. I sometimes catch myself wondering what he would say if he saw me using them to inflict cruelty on others, or holding back because I was too afraid, or letting them laze around aimlessly instead of engaging in active work. When I choose instead to do things that would bring him happiness if he could see what I was up to, it's a way of acknowledging that I remember him, and that I am his daughter.
Happy Memorial Day.