6AM: this is my wake up time. I open my eyes, roll over to the edge of my bed, sit with my hands on my legs, take a deep breath and mentally prepare for the day. I go over the day’s menu at the restaurant, the errands I need to do, and what I am making for dinner at home.
The other day, I looked down at my hands during this morning breath. I couldn’t believe how much they resembled my parents’—hands like my dad and nails like my mom. I couldn’t help but feel happy, horrified, and ashamed.
Happy. Happy because I felt like reaching down at my hands could somehow connect me to my parents who I miss every single minute.
Horrified. Horrified of how old my hands look.
Ashamed. Ashamed because I could remember my sister and I as children looking down at my parents’ same hands, and ask if they would get their hands “fixed.”
I grew up in Syria from less-than-wealthy parents. My father grew up illiterate, poor, and hearding sheep in the village to feed himself and his sister. My mother was the village’s mayor’s daughter and studied only until high school when she met and fell in love with my father. Despite all of this, my parent’s were huge believers in education and especially women’s education.
We lived in Damascus, but spent summers back in the village. My dad purchased some land there to start a farm with my mother to pay for our education. My parents would wake up each morning before the sun rose and worked there for hours. My mom would only stop to come home and fix food for everyone, including the hired few workers who helped on the farm.
During these beautiful mediterranean afternoons, my sister and I would sip tea while teasing our mom on her old, tired hands. Sometimes, we would even bring hand cream and our nail kit, hoping to “fix” her hands. She would only smile and tell us she didn’t want to change her hands—she was proud of her hands.
We never understood this.
My dad would come home later, tired from his day in the sun, his clothes muddy, dirt on his hands and under his fingernails, but always dressed in the biggest smile when seeing us doing our homework. He would always ask for a hug, but it was quite rare I hugged him before I asked him to take a shower first. He would laugh, a wonderful laugh, and a twinkle would come to his eyes while saying “I would do this all for you. I am willing to work as long as you are willing to study.”
This summer, my daughter an I were able to go to Syria and visit my family. My daughter, a talented photographer, was glued to her camera. One morning, while she was showing us her shots, I saw she took one of me chopping vegetables—I was happy, horrified, and ashamed. I asked her not to post it. My daughter wasn’t too happy about this, but nevertheless she listened. My mom then looked to me with a smile on her face and said “I see from your hands you work very hard my daughter.” I hid my hands, trying to mask my anger. I responded “Of course I work hard. I am a chef: I chop, I wash, I clean, I serve food. I have no time to take care of my hands.”
Only now, one month later, did it dawn on my why my parents did not hide their hands. Their hands raised five wonderful, successful children. Their hands paid for my and my siblings’ education. The calluses on their hands and dirt under their fingernails paid for my dream to study in America. Their hands made me and my siblings who we are today.
Today, as I look down at my hands, I give myself a hug so I can feel my parents hugging me. I no longer feel feelings of horror or shame, only happiness, and now, pride. I wish everyday that I told my dad how much I appreciated his dedication and hard work, and I wish everyday I could have one last chance to reach out and kiss his beautiful, working hands.
Our hands showcase all of our hard work, every hug we have given, every plant we have planted, every letter we have written, every tear we have wiped.
They showcase the true DNA of our life journey.