Cliff’s hands weren’t hurt – but something was definitely wrong. One day he finally realized what it was, “You know, I really love building things with my hands, and I don’t get to do it much at my job anymore.”
As our younger son Govi has taken on the role of project superintendent in our construction company, Cliff has become more of the office guy, doing all the bidding and paperwork required for public works construction. While Govi has done the hands-on stabilizing of dangerous boulders above people’s houses, installing wire mesh on steep slopes and building retaining walls, Cliff has been mostly stuck at his desk.
I’m always intrigued about what it is that makes human beings human, and I suspect our unique hand/mind connection with its potential for creativity is an important piece of that mystery.
People love using their hands at work and in play. As babies we are absolutely fascinated by the movement of our newly discovered hands. As young children, we delight our hands’ abilities to create, whether painting a sun to shine on our stick-figure mom, or a playing song on the piano keys, or making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by ourselves. As we get older, we might enjoy using our hands in shop class or chemistry lab. I liked geometry because I got to use a compass and ruler to draw lines and circles and shapes. Every day in Bali, we saw people making colorful little offerings of bamboo strips they had fashioned into tiny baskets, filled with various flowers, candies and bright bits of paper, which they place on their doorsteps and altars.
For some people, working with their hands is something done in community: the women who piece quilts together for the Iolani Fair, or the fishermen in villages around the world who patch their nets together during the off season, or the families who prepare their Thanksgiving dishes, laughing and squabbling in a crowded kitchen, and the ones who clean up afterwards, one person washing dishes, another drying them and a third carefully placing the silverware back into its special box to await the next holiday meal. One of the happiest sounds l know – besides birds chirping at dawn – is congenial workmen chatting on the jobsite as they ready their tools in the morning – sharing each other’s company with busy hands at work…
Cliff just loves the feeling of tools in his hands. He just loves the feeling of tools in his hands. Fortunately, since we started rebuilding our house Cliff’s got plenty of hands-on tasks to do when he finishes his office job! He’s been brushing various stains onto the wood we’ll be using to see which color we like. He recently worked on our bathroom floors, in which he had embedded stones and little seashells in the concrete. To be able to see the fluted shapes of the shells’ interiors, Cliff dripped resin into each tiny shell in the floor with one of the world’s most multi-use tools: a pair of chopsticks! So he’s happy as the proverbial clam now that he’s using his hands creatively again!
When our power went out with last week’s high winds, Cliff came up with a way for us to heat-up water for coffee and tea: he held a blowtorch under a pot on the oven rack. Hands and tools!
I love to cook. Something about it settles my nerves when I make an old favorite, and it appeals to my creative side when I come up with a new dish. My hands like stripping the kale leaves off each side of their thick stems, chopping onions in a grid design with a good knife blade, rolling out a pie dough crust, mixing the eggs with a wire whisk or chopsticks(!), stirring the hot chocolate with my favorite wooden spoon, spreading frosting onto a birthday cake. I also love to arrange flowers, and I have a new hand love that I’ll share with you some day: painting.
Some handwork requires acute intelligence and informed skill, such as playing a Rachmaninoff piece on a grand piano or performing a delicate eye surgery. Watching a true artist at work in almost any field, I see an amazing orchestration of the mind and hands.
‘Mind’ – ‘hand’ – ‘human’: I am fascinated by these three words being related linguistically. The Sanskrit word manas, meaning mind, is the root of our English words ‘man’ and ‘human’. In Latin, influenced by Sanskrit, manus means ‘hand’, from which we get English words such as ‘manual’ – as in manual or hand labor – and ‘manipulate’ – to move or operate by hand. We human beings use our minds and hands together to bring new things into the world, things which otherwise would not exist. Maybe this creative hand-mind partnership lies near the heart of what it means to be human.
Moving in Stillness and Resting in Joy with you,
Here’s the picture of our “house” when I got home last night:
Not to be overly dramatic, I must tell you that I knew that this was going to happen…someday. I just didn’t know that I’d only have 6 days to pack up and move out of our house when I returned from my Portland journey. But when our son and his fiancee picked me up from the airport in Honolulu, they said, “We’re coming to help you move next weekend!” What? Next weekend? “Dad says you guys are moving to a rental house.”
Well THAT was sooner than I thought! Cliff must be really eager to start this remodeling. Not only have the floors been sinking so unevenly that our doors and windows are all cattywumpus and won’t close properly, but our bathroom wall has been hemorrhaging from a leaking pipe behind the plaster, and rain has been pouring through the often-repaired roof of our lanai like a sieve, with dry rot and mold accelerating from a creep to a full-on sprint through the rest of the ceiling and roof. Yes, it was time for a serious remodel.
So after a call for HELP! to my mom, who at a spry 80 years young, flew over the next day from California, we began packing. This was a house where the original owners before us had raised all of their children, the house where we had generated so many fond memories of family gatherings and celebrations with friends. It was a refuge from the busyness of life in the world and a launchpad for all sorts of wonderful, crazy projects that Cliff and I have taken on. Emptying the place of our belongings tugged on all sorts of reminiscence strings.
Waking up in our room to the sound of the birds’ orchestration for the last time, on the day we were moving to the rental house, I felt sad and anxious. What if the new house never gets built? I had been so happy in this old house….
Cliff conducted the dismantling of the house, saving or giving away everything that was salvageable. Our neighbors even took the wall board paneling between the rooms. Out went the glass doors and windows, and now its ‘eyes’, through which we had looked out at the neighborhood and yard around us, were gone. The house had the vacant feeling of an unfinished house – kind of like we were going backwards and unbuilding it. Demolition was imminent.
Yesterday was D-Day. We’re not just talking about minor – or even major – surgery here. It was really going to be a death blow, of course with the hope and plan of rebirth. We and the construction (deconstruction!) workers gathered around our kumu hula Malia in the early morning as she did a traditional Hawaiian oli, a chant. She chose one about the piko, the navel, about connection, new life and continuity. I introduced the men to our pet turtle Greg, a small, friendly box turtle, who will be the sole resident staying on the property throughout the entire project. (You already know about me, home and turtles, from last month’s letter!) And that was the end of my goodbyes to the old house.
Cliff says that when the excavator dug into the old house and it fell, all of the men there were struck with a profound silence. Maybe creation begins with a song, a song whose vibration becomes so clear and resonant that some THING appears out of the resonance, and it lasts as long as that creative vibration continues. Eventually the ripples of that creative song recede back into silence, and the created thing is no more. In this pause, this soundlessness, a new song may arise. Without the pauses, the silences, there would be only a cacophony of endlessly jarring vibrations. How could there be a symphony? If all the stuff in the world stayed in its same form, cluttering up, how on earth would there be room for anything new?
So we make way for birth by freeing the old that has faithfully served its time. I hope that through this destruction for the sake of re-creation process I learn something about gracefully letting go. If I’m feeling this emotional over losing a house that I expect to get back in a new and better form some day, imagine how I will feel about losing a dear person from my life when the time comes. And what about this body of mine to which I am quite attached as it dances and plays and hugs the people I adore? Oh boy. I have a lot to learn about releasing what I love.
“When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the spirit laughs for what it has found.” – Sufi Proverb
No doubt gregarious Greg the turtle will be perfectly at home in his own shell, never minding the fall or rise of a silly house, and will be there at the end to welcome us home.
Resting in Stillness and Moving in Joy with you,
P.S. Mahalo to Brother Dan for traveling 2,500 miles to cart heavy boxes and build new shelves out of old boards for me AND for taking his first Nia class ever!