by Kerry Costanzo
I love the poem, “The Beautiful Hands of a Priest,” and I began thinking the other day about how one could write a similar reflection on the hands of mothers. While a mother’s hands do not share the dignity of those of a priest, they nevertheless have their own special value.
In my case, my hands are nothing pretty. They are strangers to manicures and nail polish. As a mother of seven children ages 12 to three months, I don’t have the time or energy to think about my nails. Also, I am a practical person. With all the hand washing and dishes that I do, nail polish just wouldn’t make sense. As I approach my forties, my hands are exhibiting signs of getting older.
Yet, on my ring finger shines the diamond that my husband gave me fourteen years ago when he asked me to be his wife, and the slim wedding band he slipped on the day we said our wedding vows and received the sacrament of matrimony. Those have their own special beauty and value, and they add dignity to my otherwise unattractive hands.
Each morning, as I awake, my hand searches my bed for my glasses. Despite my resolution to take better care of them, I usually toss my glasses on the bed at night, after another exhausting day. Then, I head downstairs, once again using my hands to turn on the coffee pot and grasp the mug that holds my favorite beverage. Then begins another day, throughout which I am blessed to have the use of these two hands of mine. Every mother knows how much we rely on the use of our hands during the day!
Handling the Works of Mercy
I read in a book by Kimberly Hahn that the daily duties of a mother are basically a constant performance of the corporal works of mercy. I thought this was very beautiful, and very true. As I reflect upon it, our hands are the instruments through which we perform these works of mercy. Only, in the case of mothers, it is usually not a stranger that we are serving, but our own children.
Throughout the day, we feed the hungry with our hands. Sometimes, on a good day, we whip up pancakes and scrambled eggs and make a nice chicken soup for dinner. On a not-so-good day, we mix up the meals a bit and serve cereal for dinner and leftover pizza for breakfast. We knead bread dough and roll-out cookie batter. We chop vegetables, and we mash bananas.
Sometimes, our hands might tire from constantly preparing food, and then washing the dishes afterwards. Too much contact with water makes our hands dry and cracked. These are our battle scars, a testimony to the hard work of our days.
Using our hands, we give drink to the thirsty. How many times do we hear, “Mommy, I’m thirsty,” or “Mommy, can I have some water to take up to bed?” Our hands tighten lids to sippy cups and distribute glasses, and sometimes (well, often, in our house), a minute later, our hands are picking up broken glass and wiping up spilled milk (and trying not to cry over it!).
Also, we clothe the naked. Sometimes, with active toddlers who are always getting dirty or playing in water, we do this more times a day than we care to count. We keep buttoning the buttons, zipping the zippers, and turning on the knob of the washing machine to try to keep up with the laundry that results.
Finally, we take care of the sick. We wipe runny noses. We fill up vaporizers. We distribute cough medicine and tissues. We take temperatures and plug in heating pads. We hold sick children in our arms and rock them to sleep.
Vehicles of Care
Then, there are the not-so-glamorous uses of our hands. For those with young children, there are the endless diapers to change. There is the trash to take, the floors to scrub, toilets to clean, caked-on food to scrape off tables and walls. There are the little surprises we have to pick up from our children’s rooms and under couches, like dehydrated apple cores and shriveled banana peels and “UDOs” (Unidentifiable Discarded Objects—a term I am just now coining).
Then there are other tasks. The dog occasionally needs a bath. Uncooperative little girls with long hair need their locks untangled. Sometimes, our nails get play-doh stuck in them, or food coloring from dyeing Easter eggs remains on our hands for several days.
Finally, there is the most important use of our hands: folding them in prayer, fingering our Rosary beads, making the sign of the cross, blessing ourselves and our family members with holy water. It is prayer that makes all the other tasks of our hands lighter, and, when they are done in the proper spirit, our daily tasks become channels of grace for us. Our tired, overworked hands become the vehicle that we use to take care of those we love.
In doing so, we hope to someday reach Heaven, where we will rest safely in the hands of our loving Lord Jesus.