Perhaps one hard lesson of the last few years of my life has been to learn to express uncomfortable feelings–the coping mechanism of so many years of suppressing sadness is hard to undo. But what I’ve realized is that I can tell when there’s something I need to express…because my left hand will be balled into a tight fist. Generally I don’t even know that I’m doing it, but I will look down and see the knuckles white and fingers tight and know that something is awry.
(It’s been interesting to peruse my photos from the last few years and to see how many of them include that tight fist in the frame.)
Today, I am finding my hand in a fist because of that hug that I gave my college-bound son at the side of my car just before he walked away with two suitcases in hand.* That moment recalled many similar hugs that I’ve given in the past. Hugs meant to hold on to someone who was leaving. To keep them close and safe, despite distance. To offer a memory for me to grasp on days when my hands are empty.
Making a Fist
by Naomi Shihab Nye
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.
“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”
Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
*He’s not gone to college quite yet, but will be with his Dad for a few days until he leaves