"Magic in Your Fingers!"
by Helen Keller
Few people who see realize how many and how great are the marvels of touch. Blinded by their eyes, they never stop to think how vital the sense of touch is in all the processes of their physical development, what a potent ally it is in all the activities of life. They attach far less importance to it than to sight, hearing or even smell. I have to smile when some one pities me, saying, "She has only the sense of touch." "Only," indeed, when touch is the key that opens to me the world of nature -- leaf, bud and flower, fluttering wings, singing, cool streams, the sun's warmth, the voice of the violin, fields of wheat swept like AEolian harps by light breeze-fingers! All the time I pity those who look at things with their hands in their pockets and do not take the trouble to explore the delights of touch or understand how it ministers to their growth, strength and mental balance.
Yet it was with this sense that the earliest forms of life began upon earth and developed into higher organisms. To make this clearer, it is necessary to define touch. It is that peculiar sensibility which causes us to feel the resistance of external matter and perceive the qualities of objects -- hard or soft, big or small, rough or smooth, liquid or solid, hot or cold. The baby learns all this through touch in the cradle. He has also a muscular sense which gives touch its amazing power.
The sense of touch resides in every part of the body, but it is most sensitive and efficacious in the palm of the hand and the finger-tips. Perhaps the chief marvel of the hand is the long, mobile thumb with its easy lateral movement which gives man a vast physical superiority over the monkey. It is pretty clear that without the long thumb and its power of opposing each and all the fingers few inventions would be possible, and human arts would probably not be far above the monkey stage. It invents wonderful machines with which it spins and weaves, ploughs and reaps, converts clay into walls and builds the roof over our heads. At its command huge titans of steel lift and carry incredible burdens and never grow weary.
Look upon your hand, reader, and consider the incalculable power folded up in it! Think how the hand of man sends forth the waters to irrigate the desert, builds canals between the seas, captures the winds, the sun, the lightnings and dispatches them upon errands of commerce. Before its blows great mountains disappear, derricks -- the hand's power embodied in digits of steel -- rear factories, palaces, monuments and raise cathedral spires.
The hand of the blind man goes with him as an eye to his work and by its silent reading with finger on the raised page shortens his long hours of ennui. It ministers as willingly to the deaf, educates them, and if they cannot speak, its fingers speak words of cheer to their eye, which thus becomes an ear.
The Buddhist monks have a symbolism built up on the hand. Each finger signifies a quality essential to human well-being. The first finger stands for benevolence and filial obedience, the second for seemly behavior and wedded happiness, the third for righteousness and loyalty. The little finger means wisdom and family affection, the thumb sincerity and faithfulness to friends.
We may smile at this elaborate symbolism, but it is a poet's perception of the power of the hand for good and evil. With all our five fingers strong and swift in noble action we can grasp what we will. Opportunity and the precious treasures of the world are ours, but if we are selfish, disloyal or lacking in the community spirit, we break off the fingers one by one. The hand becomes helpless, "it is only a club," as the Japanese put it.
I have experienced marvelously the qualities of the spirit in the hand during my dark, silent life. For it is my hand that binds me to humanity. The hand is my feeler with which I seize the beauty and the activity of the world. The hands of others have touched the shadows in my life with the divine light of love and upheld me with steadfast faith. Truly, as seers say, the hand of a good man is beneficence made visible and tangible.
Blessed be the hand! Blessed thrice be the hands that work!