Standing in the pew listening to the homily, my attention was momentarily distracted by my youngest child. Pressed beside me, I looked down to watch him as he traced his chubby, soft fingers over the protruding, blue veins on my hand. His gentle touch and childish curiosity carried me back to my own childhood as I recalled following the lines on my own mother’s hands.
How different they looked to me at the time. Unlike my taunt youthful skin, her’s seemed softer and more delicate. The veins rose up forming a visible network of bluish lines beneath her ivory skin. Sometimes her nails were polished, but not fancifully manicured nor notable long. They were motherly hands.
Those hands held me when first I entered this world. Perhaps, I even recognized them as the ones that stroked me while I was still nestled in her belly. Those beautiful hands wrapped around me, she carried me until I was too heavy and my legs too long. How many diapers they changed, shirts they buttoned and shoes they laced, I cannot begin to guess. She used them to wash my growing body and brush my tangled auburn hair.
Her hands would wipe away countless tears and bind so many little hurts. They administered medicine and pressed cool cloths to my burning forehead when fevers raged. A third grader harboring chicken pox, she placed me in her bed and nursed me through my illness. Rubbing my itching skin, her hands brought me comfort.
They were the instruments of work, the tools of mothering. Her hands would pen love notes, school excuses and signatures on birthday cards. A secretary, I watched her in envy as she sprawled out shorthand in response to her boss’ gruff voice. Then those swift digits flew across the typewriter keys leaving behind a thorough translation of his audible ramblings. In my childish scribblings I tried my best to imitate her.
How well I remember her hands gripping the steering wheel and tuning the radio dial as she sang familiar 70’s classics while chauffeuring me everywhere. My gray and maroon plaid, grade school jumpers felt the hot steam of an iron directed by her hands.
With them she washed and folded, scrubbed and dusted, cut and mixed, pushed and pulled, grasped and released, knotted and braided, stroked and patted, but her hands mean so much more than that to me. Through those appendages she expressed herself and loved me, like channels connected straight to her motherly heart.
On the night my childhood friend was in danger, kneeling beside her, I focused on my mother’s fingers as they counted out the beads of the rosary we prayed together. I imagine it was her who taught me first to cross my own hands in prayer.
Returning home after the sudden loss of my stepfather, I found myself coiled in her embrace. Frightening for a moment, she held me so closely and so tightly that I was able to feel the wrenching depth of her sorrow. Without a word, her hands transmitted her passion, like a cord delivering the spark of energy.
I learned how to cradle her grandchildren by observing her tender touch. While my vocation doesn’t require shorthand, I sometimes look down at my own digits as they stumble across my keyboard and think of her. Her hands are still busy today. They hold the phone so far away which carries her voice to me each Saturday morning. They assist my sisters and continue her work at home and in the office. Perhaps, a little more delicate now, her hands are no less lovely to me.
On this Mother’s Day, I will honor her with my own hands as I follow her example. Perhaps, no one will notice the washing and scrubbing, the tugging and gripping, the stroking and holding, but I will. And I will remember that my own hands passed through her and so are capable of continuing her legacy of love, faith and strength.