Hands are for Loving, by #3

2 May

My grandfather’s hands are like mine. Or rather, my hands are his.

We both have hands with small, stubby fingers — looking like they were supposed to be longer and more graceful but somehow got stuck at an awkward length. A child’s hands, but more rough, more weathered. A worker’s hands. Nails shorn short, ready for action.

The first time I saw my grandfather in the hospital after his stroke, he was droopy. Tubes were everywhere, a machine beeping to let us know he was still breathing, he could barely open his eyes. But when he saw me, he eagerly grasped for my hands from under the blanket.

He and I spent lots of time holding hands in those last weeks. Actually, we spent more time together than we ever did in this last year. And we hardly talked, really. He could barely speak at all, except to keep asking me to tell him more stories. And I really didn’t want to do much talking either; my voice felt awkward in the stillness of the CCU room, with all other doctors and nurses talking in hushed tones. But I was more afraid that he would notice that I kept trying hard to keep my tears at bay. So we stayed mostly silent. And we held hands.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what those hands had created. An engineer by profession, he had built many things for many people. His talents brought him to many places around the world. He loved telling me the story how his team reconstructed the grand Borobudur complex in Yogjakarta after seeing my photos of it during a trip to Indonesia. At 80 years old, my grandfather had long retired. But he never lost that twinkle in his eye as he showed us cousins photos of him, debonair  in Europe circa 1970, arms clasped tight around our beautiful grandma, explaining what kind of project brought them to those parts, or that they were on their 3rd, 4th, or maybe even 5th honeymoon-pilgrimage.

At 80, he had stopped mapping out blueprints, and was now using his hands for other things. Mostly for tickling his grandchildren – even if they were by this time, no longer babies, for fixing things around the house, for helping Lola look for her dropped crochet needle. On Sundays after the family lunch (he loved nothing more than having all of his children and grandchildren around), he would play tong-its with whoever wasn’t napping, point out words at the Boggle tray, pull out his wallet to show us 17 grandkids that he had all our pictures crammed in there, or switch channels on the TV looking for a good family-appropriate movie to watch. And when we would leave, every Sunday without fail, he would stand outside the door and wave goodbye – his special Lolo wave – as each car pulled out of the gate.

Those same hands served communion to parishioners at Sunday mass. He liked to think that out of all the lay ministers in the church, his line for communion was always the longest. I knew it was true, and it was because he smiled and winked at all the little kids in the line. And oh, how he adored children! He kept wishing to fill up his house with their excited chattering. And this is why we’ve got lots of extended-extended family. His children’s friends never called him “Tito“, but always “Papa“, and now their children call him “Lolo” too. Like his neighbor’s kids, who would come by everyday after school to show Lolo their test papers with stars on them. He was always the first to welcome the cousins’ boyfriends and girlfriends to the Esguerra family, with a big smile, always teasing.

When I saw my grandfather’s body at the wake for the first time, I resisted the urge to grab his hands. It was instinct rather than grief, really. He had such beautiful hands, beautiful because they sought to create goodness. Hands are for loving. For building, for giving, for praising God, for serving, for forgiving. My grandfather’s hands taught me this.

Today, I wish to make my hands beautiful too.

Father's Day

Sundays at Lolo's house

Lolo and I

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