Meditations on hands
The human hand is something we take for granted, precisely because it appears everywhere, and in places we don’t expect. It pervades our language, both written and acted out: we lend a hand, put our hands up in surrender, hand down prized possessions. Research suggests that the part of the brain that processes spoken language might also connect our hand gestures to meaning. Our hands have a language of their own.
We’ve seen hands on the news. Not too long ago, President Duterte slapped Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan with the accusation that the senator’s law emboldened young criminals and encouraged crime syndicates to hire minors as runners. The President was referring to the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which Pangilinan had authored. The act states that children younger than 15 at the time of the crime are exempt from criminal liability, but must be placed in the care of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Bahay Pag-asa.
In answer, Pangilinan pointed out that the law had not been correctly implemented, and law enforcers had to persecute crime syndicates, not children. He chided Mr. Duterte for the “kamay na bakal” approach to governance, which he had also used to describe the administration’s war on drugs. News outlets translated it as “iron-fisted,” which perfectly describes Mr. Duterte, who tries to hold on to power, but in grasping air, seizes none. We can also think of it as iron-handed, or heavy-handed: a clumsy approach to rule, where there is no goal except to pound forcefully and uselessly where one has lost control.
In contrast, Pangilinan’s legislative hand flows endlessly. He is one of the most productive senators, with several acts under his name, including Sagip Saka, which encourages rural entrepreneurship by mandating government agencies to buy produce directly from farmers and fisherfolk; the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, which helps coconut farmers via a trust fund set aside for their needs; and the Alternative Learning System Act, which provides out-of-school youth with alternative modes of education. In all his years as a senator, he has written laws, participated in hearings, worked on committee reports, the way that all senators are mandated.
His hands are always full. And in that fullness, his hands are the most open to many.
We saw his hands last weekend, when the farmers of San Nicolas joined him onstage at the Pampanga rally. The images and photos have been shared on social media, often with the briefest of captions, allowing the brain to process the gestures as the language of gratitude.
Kiko is emotional as he holds the hands of the farmers; he looks like he is about to burst into tears as he lifts one farmer’s hand to his forehead, as the farmers encircle him, as he embraces them. Not too long after, the farmers raise his hands in their own wordless, humble approval—a rare sight, because very few local leaders have done the same for Kiko. Very few have recognized him as Leni’s VP.
Many have said that this is the more meaningful endorsement. Indeed, the hands that held Kiko’s were not the hands of local leaders who have shaken other hands for the sake of publicity, who might have signed contracts but read nothing of them, who might have authored ordinances but did not see to their implementation. They were not hands that typed out blasphemies, insults, and lies online. They were not hands that created fake filth to mislead voters.
The hands that raised Kiko’s hands tilled the earth, pulled up rice, pulled in nets, nourished us, fed us. The hands that raised Kiko’s hands were full of earnest need and gratitude.
The hands that held Kiko’s hands were just like his: abandoned, but open.
We often see the logo of the joined red and green hands, clasped in so-called unity. But true unity happens when hands unlink, and their owners use those hands to work the earth, harvest from the sea, engage in both labor and sacrifice because they are inspired by their leaders.
This season of Lent, may we, too, remember the hands that saved us: nailed to the cross, bleeding, in pain. Let us remember that once, crucifixion was a mark of shame. Today, it is a sign that even in our darkest hours, our greatest strength lies in our power to hope.
Have a blessed Holy Week, everyone.
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