My hands have always been a good indicator of my general well being. When I’m tired or low on energy they tend to dry out, the cuticles fray and even the bones start to ache a little. This could be genetic (arthritis is rife in my family) or it could simply be because my hands also act as a barometer for my mood.

When I am tense, my hands curl into fists, becoming solid lumps that hang from the end of my arms, weighing me down, unnoticed for hours with the joints often creaking in protest.

When I am anxious or worried they curl and uncurl, slowly, the fingers rubbing and writhing like restless serpents or affectionate cats. If I become nervous, or skirt the border of panic then those cats grow teeth which they turn on my poor nails and cuticles.


Sometimes my hands can tell you my mood better than I can.

Years ago, at University, I would pick and peel my fingernails and tips till they were raw and bloody. I would wear plasters for weeks to cover the damage or eventually as a precautionary measure if I knew that something stressful was coming up; those plasters were shields not against germs but against my own anxiety.

Thankfully I kicked that habit a while ago and it’s been a long time since my fingertips have been stained red. But they are still the part of me that suffers first and most when I’m feeling in any way threatened or under pressure.

My hands also reflect the good times in my life. I gesture frantically when I’m talking about things that make me passionate, so to see my hands in motion, fluid and frantic in front of me, is a sign that I am engaged and enthused by life in that moment.


Hands as a symbol of commitment. Photo by Alice Roskams

My nails have never been as healthy and strong as they were in the weeks around my wedding and on the day we were married I bound my hand to my husband’s as a promise and a commitment. Now my hands are dressed with the symbols of that commitment (my wedding and engagement rings) and if you ever see me with nail polish on then I must be up to something exciting because, dammit, I’m too lazy to wear it otherwise!

For years I have hidden these hands or tried to forgot about them. They were not a part of me I particularly liked or appreciated because they have always appeared older than I actually am. The skin was never clear and smooth, the fingers not tapered or graceful. There is age in these hands, a feeling of time that I can not escape. Sometimes I think I have ‘Old Hands’ instead of (or as well as?) an ‘Old Soul’.

I inherited these hands from my mother and my maternal grandmother. I see both of them clearly in the shortness of the bones, the wrinkles in the skin and the knuckles that are freckle-covered and carry an unexpected strength within them. My hands are not delicate or graceful, never have been; they are working hands and they serve to remind me that life is often a struggle but that I have the means to survive it all here, waiting, at the end of my (conversely) thin wrists.

I am tied to history by these hands, family history, the good and the bad. I see the skin crack and dry and I fear that I will live out old patterns, suffer the same problems, fulfill unwanted fates. I worry that these hands are signs of all I cannot escape. But then I remember how soft my Grandmother’s hands felt when I was a child and how pretty my nails looked on my wedding day and I realise that these hands do not bind me to anything (except my husband, by choice and choice alone). They offer change and a means to create that is shaped by the strength and determination of my ancestors, but that reveals itself in swirling gestures and shapes as intricate and unique as I am.


“If you ever need a helping hand you’ll find one at the end of your arm.”
Yiddish Proverb


The hands in question. Photo by Jon Rouston

Which parts of yourself speak loudest to you? Do you have features that connect you to your family or ancestors?


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All written materials and images, unless otherwise stated, are property of Kelly Tomlin 2016.
We gather together to Walk the Wheel; to share with one another and be inspired.