Today let’s take a few minutes to reflect on the human hand, for it is truly amazing!
Did you know the human hand has about 27 bones? It also has about 123 ligaments–those bands of tissue that connect the bones. (I say “about” because everyone is different and people count these things differently too.) There are 34 muscles that move the fingers and thumb. In addition, the human hand has 48 named nerves and 30 named arteries. (Pause here a moment and look at your hand. Flex your fingers and thumb a few times. Now make a fist. Can you feel the bones and muscles? Study your knuckles for a moment. Then notice the arteries on the top side of your hand and on your wrist. These supply nutrients to your hand 24-hours a day and yet we barely notice them.)
Hands are used primarily for physically manipulating the environment. The hand is capable of gross motor skills (grasping a large box) and fine motor skills (picking up a dime on the sidewalk–if people still do such things). A normal hand has five digits: the index or pointing finger, the middle finger (the longest), the ring finger, and the little finger–often called the pinky. As you probably know, our thumb is especially incredible because it is opposable–that is, it has the ability to be brought opposite the other four fingers. Chimps and monkeys also have opposable thumbs, but no other mammal has a thumb that can oppose their ring finger and pinky. (Pause and make your thumb touch the other four fingers. Isn’t that something?)
The opposable thumb adds unparalleled grip, grasp, and torque to the human hand. It enables us to grab a glass of water, hold a cup of tea, sign our name, play a guitar, catch and throw a baseball, swing a golf club, hold a book to read, fashion clay pots, strike the space bar on a keyboard, wring out a wash cloth, wield a weapon, and (one of its newest designated tasks) send text messages to our friends.
The skin on the hand is also interesting. Look at your palm. Notice the many lines and ridges. These are called papillary ridges. The most famous of these are your finger prints at the tips of your fingers. As you know, finger prints are so unique to individuals that they aid law enforcement personnel to solve crimes. Basically the papillary ridges on the fingers act as friction pads to improve grasping.
Look at your finger nails. They are made of a tough protein called keratin. Finger nails protect the fingertip from injury. They also serve as tools, enabling “extended precision grip” (e.g. untying a knot or pulling out a splinter from your finger.) The fingertips themselves have the densest area of nerve endings on the entire body. Their extreme sensitivity is known by anyone who has ever caressed a bunny or banged their finger with a hammer. It is the fingers’ sensitivity that enables people to read Braille.
Today get to know your hands better. Observe them in action and at rest. Notice all the tasks they perform for you today. Take time to thank them–and to thank God for them. These words might help:
God, Giver of All Gifts, I thank you for my hands–which I often take for granted until I have an injury or arthritis. I thank you for all the marvelous things I can do with my hands. I know when Jesus came to earth, he used his hands well to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to play with children, to console the grieving, to pray, to break the bread of the Eucharist, and finally to receive the nails on the cross out of love for us. Loving God, help me to use my hands well as Jesus did to serve others in your name. Amen.
(Please note: I took today’s three pictures of my hands with my hands!)