knittyI’m just recovering from a miraculous lesson in gratitude. Last week’s events made me suddenly notice how much joy I get from something I’ve always had; something that I depend on, many times every day, for earning money, for pleasure, for art, for independent travel, for everything; something a great many people don’t get to enjoy: having strong, healthy, working hands.

Last Tuesday, I got calls from two clients, a brand-new one and one of my best and longest-standing ones, each asking me to complete a large transcription job. The deadline to be done with both jobs was Saturday night, just four days away. To meet the deadlines, I would have to be typing every moment that I was awake and my hands were unsure and strong enough to do it. It made for a strange week, but feast or famine is the nature of freelance work, and I was delighted to have so much to do (and income, and a great new client, to boot!) and determined to make the very best of it, so I typed. And typed. I typed until my wrists felt tight and strange, every muscle in my hands was sore, and my fingers started missing the keys. Then I went out and bought a wavy ergonomic keyboard and a pair hand-supporting spandex gloves, then typed until my hands gave out again. I spent the week typing, resting until my hands worked again, then typing some more.

And in this way, I realized how marvelously gifted I am to have strong, healthy hands. With all the punishment I gave my hands last week, I never felt numbness or outright pain. I do not have carpal tunnel syndrome—lucky me! I was just tiring out my muscles. As I rested my hands, desperately trying to think of something to do, I realized that most things I love to do depend on my wonderful hands. For example:

•    As I started the week of typing, my hands were already tired from the stage combat seminar I’d taken the weekend before, in which I learned to safely load, unload, store, and use guns for theatrical purposes. We loaded and unloaded various types of handguns over and over again, fired them in many situations, pulling back slides, cocking hammers, pulling triggers, carefully and gently guiding hammers back down to keep loaded guns from firing as we carried them to the stage. As I cocked a revolver with one thumb, the very tough lady fight director standing next to me (and struggling with her own gun) said, “Well look at you with your strong hands!” I glowed, proud of my powerful little thumb.

•    I credit the guitar, a love I found just five years ago, with building the strength in my hands. I play almost every day, fingerpicking, doing bar chords, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and trills, making strings ring out with my tiny little pinkies, as well as my other fingers. Last week was the longest I’d gone in five years without playing a guitar. My hands couldn’t handle even the simplest chords.

•    I didn’t blog last week, or write anything personal, except for the occasional very short email. Normally, I spend hours of personal time on my computer each day, emailing friends, doing silly things on Facebook, writing short stories, blogging, applying for more freelance jobs… My world changed completely when I couldn’t type anything but the urgent work at hand. I felt lost, isolated.

•    In normal times, I knit almost constantly. I knit while I read books and internet articles. I knit while I talk on the phone. I often knit while I edit, letting the motion of my hands focus my brain while I read the text, dropping the knitting whenever I need to make a mark. While resting between transcription sessions, I tried to watch TV, but it felt too strange. I was too used to knitting while I watched.

•    Last week, I was sitting for my favorite cat, a friendly, purry, silky longhair who loves petting, brushing, and roughhousing. I struggled to brush him once a day, and I let him hang out on his enclosed porch too often, feeling guilty that I couldn’t play with him as much as he or I would have liked.

•    I like to go to my local recreation center (whatever locality I’m in) and lift weights twice a week. This week, I didn’t go, as I couldn’t trust myself to safely hold the weights. I couldn’t even do yoga, which is notoriously hard on the wrists. Strong hands make it much easier to maintain strong legs, arms, backs, abs, and so on.

•    In fact, I didn’t go much of anywhere last week, as safe driving requires a safe grip on the steering wheel. I ran errands only when I was feeling rested.

•    I often walked to the coffee shop on the corner, or the diner down the street, to gingerly hold a coffee cup or a fork over an omelet, amazed at how difficult even eating can be when you can’t trust your hands. I watched with envy as the diner cooks chopped, flipped, and grabbed handfuls of food. I goggled at the waitress as she carried a platter of heavy dinners.

I missed my strong hands every minute of those days, and my mind opened in wonder as I remembered that many people live like this every day of their lives. My grandmother, who crocheted the way I knit, lovingly, constantly, had to stop ten years before she died, because arthritis made the movements too difficult. A good friend of mine has a condition (tentatively diagnosed as lupus) which makes her hands tire after a few hours of work, tiring the rest of her body, as well. This woman is a professional cake decorator, a mother with an adorable baby to play with, (How do you lift something as precious as your child when you can’t trust your hands?) a household full of chores, and, fortunately, a loving and understanding husband who lends his hands when hers are too tired. I know artists with rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve read about Les Paul, [wikipedia link] the inventor of the electric guitar, who still finds ways to play, even though his hands are now frozen, arthritic claws. And there are many people the world over who create rich, important lives, even though they have only one hand to work with, or no hands at all.

After last week, I am amazed at these brave and resourceful people, and most of all, I am grateful that, for this stage of my life, at least, I don’t have to find a way to live without my strong, flexible, wonderful hands. I love my hands! I am in awe of my ability to play my guitar and my mother’s piano, to knit, to drive, to hold a baby, a kitty, a pen, or a fork, and to type these lines. I am definitely a fan of having hands!