I’ve been looking at my hands a lot lately. They are my father’s hands. Since his death especially, I feel like they are often prominently veined, just like his were. Those of you who are medically trained may tell me it’s the heat, or something about my circulation, or whatever. But I think it’s simpler: the veins on my hands pop out like my Dad’s, with a frequency that they didn’t in last summer’s heat, or really anytime before Dad died. And that to me is a reminder that he lives in me. Literally. The map that created the cells of my body was made by his and Mom’s cells. The way I’ve learned to see the world was strongly influenced by the way he saw it.
I look at my toes. They are my father’s toes, with the second toe defiantly sticking out longer than the big toe. I look at my chin, and it is the chin that my father passed along to me from his mother.
I am comforted by these things. They reassure me that he is not gone at a time when I miss him and when his absence feels so absolute. They remind me of his lessons and his values when I need to be reminded. I don’t know what physical characteristics I will pass on to my children, but I know that one of the best things I can do to honor my Dad and his memory is to make sure my children know and learn from his spiritual characteristics. That, I’m finding, is a profound undertaking.
I remember a time when my older daughter was around two or three years old, and my Dad was sitting with her. She was looking at his hands and tracing the veins on them. He asked her if she knew what they were called. She answered that they were branches. He loved this response, and recounted it to me as evidence of how smart his granddaughter was. Indeed, veins are like branches; spreading out from their source, providing nourishment and life to their extremities. It occurs to me that this is what he did, and what each generation ought to do for the one after it: he and my Mom raised and nourished us, and provided shade from the world when we needed it. Now, as we raise our children, we take that nourishment and pass it onto them. And so the tree grows, providing shade for its youngest members, and for those with whom life has been a little too harsh, and who need the respite, however temporary, of family.