The Broken Hand of Blessing

There is a bronze figure of Green Tara, a Tibetan Buddhist deity of compassion, in my office.  She is depicted sitting upright on a lotus flower with the disc of the full moon behind her, one foot tucked up and the other slipping off the lotus and pointed toward the earth, as if ready to stand.  Her right arm is down to her side, her right hand open, as if giving something away.  Her left elbow is bent and the hand held up in blessing—what is left of it, that is.  When I found her, most of her left fingers had broken off.

I was stunned to discover this Tara in a Goodwill in Santa Cruz, partly because I had been looking for just such a figure for years and knew how pricey they were, and partly because it was so finely done.  Her face is serene, the details of the sculpture are well realized, and the colors applied to the bronze are subtle.  The entire presence is calming, yet energizing.  That the raised hand was broken I found endearing.  I was not yet to know the personal significance of that broken hand, but I took Tara home and found her a place of honor in various locations as I moved through life.  And now she sits on a shelf in my office where most of my clients don’t even notice her.  But I know she is there, and that blesses me.

Last summer, in a freak accident, I broke my right hand.  My right hand has always been dominant, and I broke it in two places that happened to be very inconvenient for healing.  I have now completed a little over six months of hand therapy with a very competent and  experienced occupational therapist under supervision of a very competent and  experienced hand surgeon, who weighed the possibility of surgery and decided “if I had fixed you, it would have been worse.”  He finally told me that I would have the future option of surgery, but given the amount of pain and inflammation I had already endured, the best that might happen would be a 50% increase in function, and that only after a lot more pain and inflammation.  My third and fourth fingers do not straighten, particularly the pinky; they abide in perpetual curves, the pinky much more so than the third finger.  The hand is much stronger now, and better at making a fist.  I continue to work on strengthening both my hands, as my left has had to become dominant for certain tasks and definitely was not up to the challenge at first.  My hand therapist joked that should I ever want to give a papal blessing, my right hand would be perfectly suited for that.  Over the course of the painful months since breaking my hand, and a lot of effort on both our parts, he supported me in realizing that although I cannot completely flatten my right hand now, I need that function far less than being able to make a fist, hold on to things, carry bags, write, draw, and paint.  I adapted quickly to typing without that pinky, which was necessary in order to do the documentation of my profession.  I changed my signature, finally achieving a quick scrawl I considered far preferable to my pervious nun-trained Palmer cursive; I had been unsuccessfully seeking an elegant scrawl my whole life.  I can drive, although the hand does get a lot more tired on longer trips of than it used to.  As for riding a bike—which is what I was doing when I broke it—I haven’t tried that yet.

Broken-handed Tara inspires me.  There is no loss of serenity or strength in her face or pose, and to me, she exemplifies making a disability a way to bless both self and others.  There is a Buddhist story that Tara was once a young woman who was dedicated to enlightenment, and meditated so fiercely and impeccably that she achieved it.  The monks around her—all male, of course—gave her what they considered great praise:  “Just imagine, you will never have to incarnate as female again!”  Tara laughed at them and vowed that she would always incarnate as female, and in fact, would continue doing so until all beings are enlightened.  She is traditionally depicted as a beautiful 16 year old girl, but she is ageless.  She has seen it all.  She is impossible to corrupt or destroy; her compassion is boundless.  I can only aspire to be like her.  My compassion, sometimes, is exhausted, anything but boundless.  That’s when I know I need it from someone or somewhere else.  That’s when I know Tara is my doorway into a blessing much greater and older than any artist can depict.

Some people, many people, call this blessing God or Goddess, others Spirit, others love.  I see it as all of those and more.  Although my primary term for deity is Goddess, there are times I know that is not big enough for what I sometimes sense is there.  I have come to think of all encompassing love as the force that drives life, and this helps me when my compassion fails—because I know the burden is not all on me, I can recover.  Sometimes I need compassion, particularly in a time of catastrophic changes such as right now, with a pandemic inexorably laying waste to everyone’s accustomed ways of functioning. 

Maybe I needed to be shaken out of life as usual; maybe we all did.  That doesn’t make it less frightening or destabilizing, just as it doesn’t mean Life doesn’t love us anymore.  Life loves us, and right now, it feels very much like tough love.  There seems to be a ruthlessness to its impersonal compassion—which is sometimes necessary, whether or not we like it.  Who likes being told to stay home and shelter in place?  Who likes sudden shortages of toilet paper, rubbing alcohol, or hand sanitizer?  Who likes being told to wash our hands constantly, disinfect surfaces after every contact, wait in line just a little longer at the store so the overworked cashier can wipe down the conveyor belt at frequent intervals?  Who likes not knowing where COVID-19 will strike next, or losing hours at work to stay home with the kids because schools are closed, or being told not to travel?  Who likes the idea of a recession, the reality of unemployment, wondering whether we can continue to pay our bills, wondering whether we will have to downsize, especially if we’ve already downsized as much as we can?  Who likes canceling dates with friends because they might have been exposed, and we don’t want our loved ones at higher risk to get sick?  And most of all, who likes thinking that we, or a loved one, could die painfully from this virus, at a time we’re not prepared—as if we ever could be prepared?

On the other hand, what if Life is loving us by forcing us to slow down, to look after ourselves and those closest to us, to tend to our relationships in a different way?  There are Facebook memes addressing the positives to living in a pandemic.  We can still play games, take walks, ride bikes, make art, and do countless other things we “normally” don’t have time for because we’re so insanely busy running around, working, buying things, doing things that take us away from our center.  What if this is our chance to get back to our center? 

A 10 year old girl lives next to me.  She was in rehearsals for a play, and then the rehearsal space was shut down due to the declared state of emergency in our city.  The directors, however, had a brilliant solution, and now the cast is rehearsing by Zoom.  You may have seen the videos of Italians singing and playing music together from their balconies, filling the streets with song.  They are still together, still a community, despite social distancing.  China’s carbon footprint has already decreased significantly; people aren’t driving because they have nowhere to go.  How can we take this opportunity, so unattractively bestowed by Life, to become more of who and what we truly are, to come together in compassion, to remember what it’s like to live more simply and perhaps more happily?  How can we overcome the lack of our usual distractions to work on the challenges in our relationships and our individual growth that we normally turn away from?

Here’s what I am doing.  First, I’m going to ask for the loving support I need, and do my best to give it to others.  I am already seeing the devastating effects of increased uncertainty, anxiety, depression, and increased social isolation in my clients, and I’m already doing only teletherapy due to the stay-at-home order.  I am also doing more writing, more art, more cooking.  I miss those things, and normally don’t have much time for them.  I’ll be catching up on tasks I keep running out of time for.  I’ll continue to meditate daily, or as close to it as possible.  I will focus more on self-compassion.  I will keep reminding myself that it’s actually normal for things to be beyond my control, and that my life is good because Life is good, and Life loves me, loves us—not to mention, I have a lot of blessings to be grateful for.  I will keep finding inspiration.  I will keep looking to Tara and the broken hand of blessing, and I will use my broken hand to bless as much as I can.

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