Calloused Hands

I have been noticing hands more and more since moving to rural France. We live in Lower Normandy, where nearly everyone–female or male–works with his/her hands in some fashion. We are surrounded by farmers, mechanics and engineers. The mayor of our commune is an engineer for Eaux de Normandie. And just try to find a household which does not have a substantial amount of vegetables and fruit growing–and then come the animals!

Thus, it naturally follows that many people have calloused hands–including myself for the second time in my life. When I was young–beginning at about the age of eleven–I managed about ten lawns/gardens for neighbours. I cut their grass, raked their leaves, shoveled their snow, chopped wood for fireplaces, etc. When I went to college, I worked on construction sites. I also was an avid tennis and racquetball player for decades. Even during seminary I managed the woodland (60 acres), lawn and flowerbeds for a wealthy couple. Thus I had calloused hands…until I finished seminary.

Once ordained, my work was more from the head and heart, and much less from my hands. After my doctorate it only got worse! Preaching, teaching, doing research and writing gave my hands the pallor of a privileged white guy. To some degree I forgot about the simple joy of manual labour. Now lest you think I am going to write a paean to the ‘working class hero’, let me be clear: manual work is hard; and not to be entered upon lightly. It is no less noble and no more noble than any other work–however, there is something different about ‘sweat equity’ and its rewards. Having grown and harvested your own food, having built something with your own hands–or having simply put in hours pulling weeds in a flower garden–all of this yields a tangible sense of accomplishment that pure mental/desk work can never provide. Never. And the only way to prove it is by doing it!

And so, after 40+ years, I’ve come full circle in my life (and not for the first time!). I live once more in a house heated by wood, work on fences, tend goats and chickens, pick fruit and more. And I have calloused hands. But it’s really not come as a surprise…about 50 years ago I took a mind-altering substance while sleeping in the open loft in one of our barns with a college companion. I liked the fact that I could look out at the night sky while listening to the background music made by a mountain stream which gurgled nearby. At some point during that ‘trip’ I looked at my hands, only to see that they had become gnarled, arthritic and wrinkled–just like the ones typing this blog today. The experience wasn’t ‘freaky’ but fascinating–and it was a foretaste…a very accurate foretaste. My point? I’m not exactly sure! But start studying the hands of other people and then you can draw your own conclusions.

2 thoughts on “Calloused Hands

  1. Fascinating. My hands are well and truly gnarled but that is entirely from old age! Keep on sending the commentary on your lifestyle: it reveals a lot about the world we live in. All best wishes to you both


  2. I love this reflection! So important to living fully, to have it all; head, heart, hands and sweat. My deepest respect to you and Chris for everything you are and always have been, and for the richly earthy life you have created together there. No better way to celebrate Creation than to dig right in and work with it!


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