“Mom, why are my fingers so crooked?” Her voice comes over the seatback that separates us and makes me take notice. I catch her eye in the review mirror. “What do you mean?” I ask, though I am sure I already know. We sit there long enough that she tells me what she really wanted to say all along: She tells me how her best friend noticed her hands today in class. Noticed them, and then paraded her around the room–as she tells it–to show everyone else how crooked her fingers are. “Mom, I tried to laugh when they laughed. But what I really wanted to do was cry.” And at that moment, what I think I know is shattered, my heart broken. At that moment, I want to cry, too.
I thought this was a moment of personal insecurity. One that I could relate to. Instead, today my girl learned something about the world. Something that I wish weren’t true. So what do I say? How do I turn this into something that saves her spirit, restores her faith, and lifts her up?
“You know,” I start, unsure of where I am headed, “sometimes I don’t like the way my hands look, either. But when I see my hands, I don’t usually think about how they look. I think about all that they do. They were made for working, that much is clear. They’ve put up walls and built our house. They’ve typed all the stories that I’ve put on paper and are waiting for all the ones I still have to tell. They held you the moment you were born and every day since, even though you are almost too big to hold. My hands are so much more than the way they look. Because most days, they look ragged. Dry. Cracked. And if I position them just right, they look like dragon talons,” I tell her, laughing.
“Yeah, but Mom…”
I interrupt, “But wait, I’m not done. I wonder why your friend would make you feel bad about something that you cannot change. Something that makes you, you.”
“I could change them,” she tells me, “with plastic surgery.”
I blink slowly and sigh deeply. “But would you, if you could?” I ask her. And from here, the story truly unfolds.
“No,” she replies.
“No,” I repeat. “Because those swollen knuckles, they mean that I’m your mama. That you are grandma’s girl and that you even belong to my grandma before her. We all have the same shape to our fingers, with knuckles that make it hard to get rings on and off, but I know where I come from when I see them. And that crooked pointer, the one that bends at the first knuckle, you get that from your dad. Every time you point with that finger, it lights me up to see him in you. Think of all the amazing things that Dad has made with his hands.
“And that crooked pinky,” I continue, holding up the same crooked pinky to remind her, “That one is all Papa’s.” I can feel the tears burning at the corners of my eyes. “All Papa’s. It’s one of the ways that I know he is still here. I can see him in you and in our crooked pinky. I wouldn’t straighten that tiny finger out for all the money in the world.” I may have overdone it, but what I want–what I need–her to know is that our hands tell our story. And beyond that: There is a story in all of our perfect imperfections and blessedly so. “So, if your friend ever points out something like that again, take the chance to tell her your story.”
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