We can do such wonderful things with our hands. There is this cool memory I have of seeing two homeless folks in line waiting for food at Food Not Bombs. A man, with a plate in each hand, was dripping sweat. It was running in his eyes. He looked like he might topple over. A woman in front of him said, "Wait," and wiped off his face with her own hands and them just wiped them on her shorts. It is one of those simple things, one of those little scenes of such simple beauty that it stayed with me.
A couple of years ago, one of my students had forgotten her lunch. She was fearful about charging a lunch in the cafeteria and was just going to sit there and not eat. Of course I wasn't going to let that happen, but I didn't need to do anything, because when her classmates saw that she was hungry and in a little distress, the children walked up to her and offered her something of theirs. An apple, part of a sandwich, chips, carrots, a juice box... it just kept coming. Before long there was a pile of food in front of her.
With our hands we can sew, carve, paint, write love songs. With our hands we can invent machines, build houses and bridges. We can pave roads, lay pipe - build cities. With our hands we can plant tomatoes and pick oranges, cut flowers and carve jack-o-lanterns from pumpkins. With our two hands we can love and deliver babies, we can bandage wounds and sooth hurt feelings. Our hands are amazing gifts.
But there is this other side of people.
One day, a few weeks ago, I was down at our little neighborhood park and boat ramp. It was a beautiful sunny morning - it's been a mild but rainy summer. This day was a relief from the almost constant rain. There was a bad smell coming from the water. Sometimes a dead fish will wash up along the shoreline there. Often a catfish or striped bass will drift up on the shore. When that happens, I'll come back with a shovel and bury the dead animal deep.
On this morning the smell was really bad. From 50 feet away I could see a dead Canada goose, its head twisted around unnaturally. It still looked beautiful with its black and white feathers, its black mask. Even in death it looked graceful. On closer examination, I could see blood on its feathered breast. There was a bullet hole, small, neat and round. Not a lot of blood. But it stood out in stark contrast with the bright white breast feathers. It had just recently been shot as its eyes were still open, clear and shining.
The smell of death and decay were too great to come from this recently killed animal. As I looked down the shore there were two dead fish. I could identify a gar and a carp rolling back and forth in the small waves. Both had been dead a long time. The carp, a pretty big fish, had a steel barbed arrowhead protruding from its skull. I'm sure the hunter was disappointed about losing the arrow head. It looked expensive. This fish was not taken for food. It was killed for "sport".
Next I examined the garfish. They have a long boney snout for catching and holding their prey. Whoever had caught this fish had either cut or broken off its boney beak and released it, condemning it to a slow death through starvation.
All three of these animals, washed up along the shore within yards of each other, were killed for the bizarre pleasure of the hunter/fishermen. I was so sad to come back with my shovel and bury them. I am not sure if it is legal to kill fish so unnecessarily. Maybe torturing animals is legal. I am fairly sure that shooting geese is not allowed in our part of the lake. There are lots of homesteads here. I would think that there would be danger in stray bullets.
But even if it is legal - it's not hard to see that it is wrong. While the geese are considered pests in some places, the gar and carp are harmless to people and all of these animals certainly serve a purpose in the ecosystem. But if someone is capable of getting pleasure from killing defenseless animals, then what else is that person capable of?
Last week I saw another dead gar on our little beach. This was an old animal. Maybe four feet long, one of the largest I've seen. It had a zip tie pulled tightly around its middle. Yet another person went to the trouble of capturing this animal, which could not have been easy, and making sure that it would starve to death.
I have this new friend. Eddie McCloud. He is an painter. He is a sculptor. He is a guitarist. He is a songwriter. He uses his hands in his work, to be sure. He is a custodian. But he uses his hands the way we should all use them. To create beauty. To make something wonderful where before there was nothing. I hope that someday, the folks who killed those animals, learn to use their hands for good. For there is an artist in each of us. A lover, a parent, a writer, a kite flyer, a mechanic and a carpenter. Our hands are divine gifts. And if you are not a believer in God, they are simply magic.