Sunday, October 12, 2008


I watched The Bone Collector last night and one part of it struck a nerve. When Angelina Jolie touched Denzel Washington's hand while she thought he was asleep, it was the most erotic and intimate scene in the movie, which is pretty amazing when you consider the movie wasn't supposed to be erotic or intimate. It was brutal and bloody and difficult. But watching her touch his fingers fastened onto the wooden board that held his computer mouse gave me chills -- the really good kind -- and that deep down ache that pulls the focus inward.

As I thought about that scene later, it occurred to me that the most sensuous part of the body, aside from the mind, is the hand and fingers. We understand and process so much information from the sense of touch through every millimeter of our skin, but the hands can be brutal and uncaring and oh so sensuous and intimate, conveying so much in even the lightest of touches.

My favorite scene in Persuasion by Jane Austen with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds isn't when they kiss but when he first takes her hand. He holds out his white gloved hand and she puts her hand in his slowly and softly. Then his thumb holds her hand in place with a slight caress of the ball of his thumb on her hand and then they kiss, but the closeup of their hands touching for the first time is magic.

There is power in the touch of a hand and even Shakespeare got that one right when Romeo and Juliet first meet and touch hands in a "...holy Palmer's kiss." It is touch that first tells us that someone is interested: a brief caress of fingers to cheek, patting a shoulder or a knee, reaching for another's hand to comfort and console, brushing away a stray eyelash, making contact in some way that breaches our personal barriers. Even in pulling a girl's hair or slapping a boy on the arm for some slight brings two people closer and says so much about what we feel.

I remember once while having lunch with a friend, he told me that things were not going well at home. I instinctively reached out to touch his hand to console him and he responded by holding my hand, his thumb making little circles on the space between my thumb and forefinger. It was such an intimate moment it surprised us both because it happened instinctively.

A newborn baby waves its arms around but what it is really seeking is contact, to touch and be touched. If you think about it, it is our hands we have to watch when we're around people who evoke strong emotions, putting them in pockets or hiding them against the chest when we cross our arms. We show empty hands to prove we have no evil or violent intent. When we cry we hide our eyes in our hands and brush away the tears. We emphasize a point by beating a fist on something or someone. We gesticulate and emote with our hands, saying as much, and sometimes more, with our gestures as we do with words. Hands clasped in prayer or meditation, hands folded in laps, sitting on hands, running fingers through our hair or someone else's, stroking, caressing, feeling, holding, slapping, pulling, touching say more than words and say it clearer.

We hide behind language to mislead, lie, mask and entice, but hands never lie. Eyes are the windows to the soul, but hands are the doorway to the heart.

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