Holy holy! Whose hand are those typing away on my laptop keyboard? I could swear that the vintage star sapphire ring on the left middle finger and the wedding band on the right middle finger belong to me. Hey! That watch looks identical to the one Isobel and her dad gave me for my birthday a few years ago! What the hell is going on?
As I observe the hands move across the keyboard making words on the screen I see tiny little creases and pleats on the surface of the skin. I see some evidence – little variations in color and texture — that the person to whom these hands belong usually remembered to wear sunscreen but sometimes didn’t. They seem to be pretty agile hands—I’m impressed with the smooth and confident fashion with which they fleetly slide from letter to letter on the keyboard. But I’m even more certain that these hands can’t be my hands because the hands I’m watching write these words look unmistakably like grown-up hands. By which I mean they could even be the hands of one of my older female family members. Except that many of the women in my family have some arthritis or tendonitis in their hands and they certainly can’t type as fast as I can (well, maybe my mom can).
Either something really weird has happened — some partial body-snatching situation — and these hands are able to tap into my mind, accessing and then typing every secret though I’ve been thinking about them, or….YIKES!…these hands are my hands!
When did this happen? And more to the point, how did I miss it? I’m Ms. Gero-Punk, the close observer of my own and others’ travels through the life course, so how did I miss the fact that time has inscribed itself upon the back of my hands? To riff on a question posed by the authors of one of the articles I use in my Embodiment in Later Life course, how do we know we are aging when we can’t see it happening in real-time?
Well, one way we know we are aging is that suddenly we see our hands-in-motion in a certain light and realize they are no longer new hands. They are mother hands. They are grandmother hands.
Sometimes it is my feet that take me by surprise, though the surprise they give me has less to do with where I am in my particular travels through the life course and more to do with reminding me about a kind of embodied legacy of which I am a recipient.
I’ll be ambling along with Happy-the-dog and I’ll look down at my feet and feel confused because instead of my feet, I see my grandmother’s feet. My gramma and her daughter, my mother, are both known for their extraordinary walking talents. There’s a particular way their feet look, clad in their “tennies,” when they are perambulating. Not every time, but sometimes as I’m walking along my feet look exactly like their feet look, like how their feet have looked during the many walks I’ve taken with each of them since the time I was a little girl. I can’t really describe the jarring immediacy of the experience, nor can I tell you how their feet look; it is a feet-in-motion thing, it is simultaneously physical and energetic and spiritual. It is as though generations of women in my family are matrilineally connected in this way, through our feet.
But as I realize once I’m over the shock of seeing my gramma’s feet attached to my legs, the truth is that one of the ways in which we – my gramma, mother, and me — are connected is through the pleasure we get from the simple activity of walking for no other reason than to be out in the world, in our bodies, moving.