292. Give Me A Hand

Years ago, I think it was 2003, I worked all summer with a machete that I’d brought back from Honduras. I whacked brush and small trees with the machete. Even tried to kill a ground hog with it, but the critter was too fast for me. I swung it over and over with my right hand, so much so that I over extended the tendon on the outside of my right wrist. It still bulges a bit from the abuse to this day. Anyway I wrapped it in an Ace bandage and tried to draw it back in where God intended that tendon to be. Then I went back to my classroom for the twenty second year of teaching seventh grade English. With an average of 135 students each year that adds up to nearly three thousand 12 and 13 year olds. Let that stat sink in for a long moment before you judge me and my tenuous grip on sanity.

So the first day and week of school began much like every other year– homeroom, lockers, schedules, rules, etc. All the kids try to be good and engaging in the first week until they run out of steam. Then there is real homework to do and the old excuses bubble up… “The Police had to come arrest my dad for drinking and my mom for hitting him with a skillet.”

“Billy, I know that’s not true.”

“How?”

“Because your dad is the principal and your mom works with my wife. Didn’t they tell you?”

“Entrapment! I move to have the proceedings sealed and thrown out.”

It wasn’t long till one of the inquisitive kids asked about my wrist bandage. I gave the bait answer, “Oh, it’s a long story and unbelievable, so why bother telling you. No one would believe it.”  There was a nearly audible “THunk” as the asker and those in earshot heard my baited answer. “Oh, no, tell us. We’ll believe it.”

“It’s too fantastic. I can hardly believe it myself.”

“Come on! We promise.”

“Well, okay, but don’t tell the kids in third period. I can tell they are not believers. They aren’t as mature as you guys.”

“Okay, okay. What happened?”

“Well I was in England this summer, and you know how they drive on the wrong side of the road and all?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“So I rented this MiniCooper at the airport and I was driving around London just trying to get used to the gears and being on the right side while shifting with my left, and I came up to a turn. I needed to make a right hand turn but I couldn’t find the signal bar for the blinkers, you know?”

“Uh huh. Whatdyado?”

“I foolishly stuck my right arm out the window to signal, but since I was driving on the left side of the road and traffic was coming at me on the right my hand was  ripped off quite violently by a passing car’s rear view mirror. It literally cut my hand off, leaving me with a bleeding stump.”

“No way!!”

“Yes. I told you it was an incredible story. Do you want to hear the rest of it?”

“Yes, but no lying.”

“On my honor…. So I was in a pickle with only my left hand working and a fountain of blood gushing at oncoming traffic.”

“Whatdyado?”

“Well, did you see that movie Speed, where Sandra Bullock has to drive the bus over 6o miles an hour or the bomb will explode?”

“Yeah, that was a cool movie, but you didn’t have a bomb.”

“I know, but I thought that if I could drive at a fast enough speed, the air pressure would push back the blood gush from my stump.”

“No way. That’s impossible.”

“Well, luckily for me I was not a negative thinker, so I accelerated to 8o kilometers per hour. That’s metric.”

“How fast was it?”

“I think it equals 66 miles an hour in American speed, but anyway once I achieved this speed it was like I had a tourniquet on my forearm. The blood stopped spurting and I could drive around looking for my hand.”

“You mean it was still stuck on the other car’s mirror?”

“That was my only clue. I recalled it was a red late model Jaguar, so I drove about London at high speed looking for the car with the bloody hand on it.”

“Where did you find it?”

“Unfortunately, I did not.”

“But what about your hand?  It’s right there. How did you get your hand back on the bleeding stump?”

“Because I had driven an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War I knew that transplanted limbs have a brief window for attachment. So after 25 minutes of high speed hand chasing about London, I rushed in to The Royal Oaks Hospital in Chelsea by Earl’s Court. It’s an older hospital but well known for its transplant successes.”

“You mean that is not your hand? No way. It looks just like the left one.”

“I agree. The surgeons did a great job matching skin tones I thought. This hand actually came from an accountant who was killed in a tragic auto accident in Surrey. He was completely crushed by a cement lorry, all except his right hand. Fortunately for me had signed the British donor card just days before. How ironic is that?”

“I don’t know what ironic is, but I think you’re lying. How can we tell it’s the accountant’s hand?”

“I don’t question you. It’s pretty fantastic, I know. But here’s the test:  when the hand gets near a calculator, it’s like he can’t help himself. He starts trying to add figures. Watch. Bring that calculator near the hand slowly. I tell you it’s like phantom pain only it’s not.”

“I don’t believe you, but here’s the calculator.”

Suddenly the bandaged hand starts to twitch and type out wildly on the calculator. The kids jumped back.

“See, I told you. It’s like he’s still adding from the grave. They say he was very dedicated.”

“No, that’s you doing it. You’re lying. Take the bandage off.”

“The surgeons said I had to wait six weeks.”

“When is that up?”

“Next Monday, as a matter of fact.”

“Okay, we’ll see who’s lying then.”

The weekend came and went. As I was preparing to go to school that Monday, I remembered the deadline. Hmmm. I found a black Sharpie pen and made a dotted line around my wrist and then wrapped it with the bandage, knowing I’d be called out soon. As soon as I got to homeroom the kids swarmed my desk.

“You said it was today. Let’s see the scar.”

I slowly unwrapped the bandage until the bare wrist was visible with the stitched Sharpie line.

There was much howling and gnashing of teeth. “That’s fake. You drew that. Those aren’t real stitches.” But by then it didn’t matter. The legend of The Hand had been birthed.

 

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161. First Day of School

Back to school feels eerie this year. It’s unusually cool. This chilly air may actually help the kids accept going back into the warehouses of education, which are starting to resemble super-sized box stores. But honestly, these crisp sunny days are the choicest fruits of summer, far superior to the hazy days of June and July that oozed fat sweat drops of humidity which collected in fleshy creases and overlaps. No, days like these are brisk, sharply defined, cool and brilliant… and precious.

Heather downstairs was late coming across the parking lot, and I pretended that it mattered to me, tapping my left wrist as if I had a watch, which I don’t.

Flustered as usual, Heather gushed, “First day of school and I had to take the kids in…and my daughter’s soccer coach murdered his wife and killed himself last night. And I had to break that to my daughter this morning. She loved her coach and his two sons. She cried. I said it was an accident. Some other day we’ll say what it really was. Can you believe that? Have a nice first day, Sweetie.” Disturbing as a snake in a bird’s nest, gulping down hatching eggs whole.

Whoa! How do you do that? Kill your wife and then yourself as your two innocent sons sleep? The lady at the coffee shop had been mumbling about this murder/suicide twenty minutes earlier. “I would have just left,” she offered. Another patron reading the morning paper suggested that at 3:30 a.m. the wife may have been asleep. Single gunshot to the head. Boom. Over. The how and when are covered, but why? No reason can justify killing the mother of your two sons, leaving them orphaned. It smells like a guy who was out of control and tried to regain control with a gun. We may never know all the details since he killed the only other witness, himself. And yet, we think somehow that sense can be sifted from the ashes of senselessness. You may as well burn the newspaper and then try to read its ashes.

These sorts of stories are becoming ordinary events. When we moved out of the D.C. beltway madness in 1980, my wife and I rarely heard or read of a local killing in our rural Franklin County. Someone would be killed while hunting, perhaps mistaken for a turkey, but cold or hot blooded murder was pretty rare. Now, it happens with regularity. I don’t blame guns; they do not fire themselves in the night at point blank range. However, I am perplexed by a lack of emotional regulation, mostly by men who feel threatened by a wife or girl friend who is leaving. Not that women haven’t done the same thing. There was the lady at the mall a few years ago who shot at her husband repeatedly but was a bad shot, killing some glass and a couple of mannequins at J.C. Penney. How is it that a person gets so completely overwhelmed by rage or jealousy that killing their loved one seems like a logical choice? In that moment the loved one becomes a coiled rattlesnake with super toxic venom; it’s kill or be killed at some reptilian level of consciousness. Blogitzers, we need to stay out of that reptile zone or risk becoming a rattlesnake that strikes and eats its mate.

And school, somehow schools and school children keep coming up as preferred targets for out of control young men with arsenals at hand. How is it that so many disconnected young men seem to all arrive at the same conclusion– go to a public school and kill as many folks as possible. Why not rush a nursing home or hospital? Why a school? I don’t blame videogames either. Even though they seem to be training grounds for extreme violence. The fact remains: millions play them obsessively but few of the players offend. I don’t like the obsession with videogames, but folks always find something to obsess over.

Here’s the sad fact: Human life is not sacred to humans. Not even little kids’ lives. If it were, what would our world look like? Unimaginable grace would flow from one to another in all our relationships, husband to wife, parent to child, neighbor to neighbor, teacher to student, provider to customer, employer to employee. Utopia would be someplace near instead of nowhere. If I treated you as holy and you treated me as holy, wow. We’d both be holy and honor one another with words and deeds. We’d spend a lot more time thinking and praying than running around doing and competing. Holiness requires a lot more meditation, I think. We’d have to live in smaller units because of the demands of holiness (which means “set apart” for starters); and then the practical application of holiness would limit group sizes, don’t you think? How many holy men does it take to change a light bulb? None, they don’t need light; they are light bearers, radiating truth like neon angels in the desert darkness. Oddly though, they seem to be born in or live in deserts.

But human life is sacred to God, so the more we choose to honor and seek out God, the more we must treat human life as sacred. This opens a huge can of worms from abortion to euthanasia and cloning and war and famine and immigration and poverty. The easiest way to deal with the clamoring of all these issues is to get rid of God, but that just gets one back into chasing his own tail or shooting his loved ones. I wish it were simpler, like finding limes fought off scurvy. Simple. Or the world is round not flat. Simple. God values all life; and if we value God, then we must also value all life. Hard.

Perhaps if that were the first lesson taught on this first day of school, we would have some small holy tile moments that comprise the universal mosaic of sacred life.