One of the most noticeable signs of our infant daughter’s emerging awareness has been a keen interest in her hands. One day a few months ago, she began to stare at them almost the entire time she was awake. She will take breaks from nursing just to check on her hands and then, upon commencing her meal, keep her eyes fixed on them while opening and closing her fingers over and over again. The discovery of her hands has marked a new stage in her infancy, one in which she seems to be grasping her own consciousness. It is almost as if she is having a sort of, “I have hands, therefore I am” experience.
Which has led me to ponder, are human beings’ sense of self particularly linked to the hands? Is this why we wave at others? “Hello, I exist and I see you do, too!” We applaud to show our personal delight or approval, shake hands to seal an introduction or agreement, offer a hand to help another in need, hold hands to demonstrate special closeness to another individual, exchange rings worn on the hands to mark the joining of two individuals in marriage, place a hand over our heart to pledge allegiance or sincerity, and lay a hand on the bible to take an oath.
Come to think of it, the human species has evolved to our place of privilege on the planet almost entirely because of our hands; opposable thumbs allowed us to fashion tools, make fire, create clothing, build shelters, and eventually develop art and music and written language and a wealth of technologies. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that our hands hold a special status in our idea of self and our interactions with others. Watching my baby ponder them has been really neat. I look forward to supporting her as she uses her hands to discover the world and establish an entirely unique identity for herself.