Take Off Your Gloves

My hands are not pretty. They are rough and marked with ant bites in varying stages. My nails are a mess: broken, dirty, with torn cuticles. I have been in my garden a good bit over the last month, preparing the soil, planting, and weeding and weeding some more. My daughter is ashamed of my hands and joins a host of others in puzzling over why I don’t wear gloves. I don’t like gloves. They make me claustrophobic. I have tried wearing them, but within minutes, they are thrown off. My hands get hot, feel suffocated and I feel like I am not really there. My hands want to be there, to be involved, to be “hands on,” if you will. And gloves just don’t allow that. When I garden, I expect to get dirty. I actually want to get dirty. The rich soil now teeming with tiny earthworms feels good to my hands. I feel connected to the earth, this source of life and growth. I can now tell just where to grab each type of weed to uproot the whole plant, and easily separate them from the clinging dirt. I can sense the difference in the soil, where the ants have been happily setting up housekeeping and avoid surprising both of us with a painful encounter.

Of course, there is a price to pay for this close communion with my garden. I don’t always anticipate the ants’ appearances. Years and years of buried glass is being unearthed with each season’s tilling and sometimes is discovered just below the surface by my sensitive fingertips. Some of the weeds proudly display their prickly stems, but others are more subtle and discovered only upon close contact. My hands are tired and sore, but they are stronger and a strange mixture of calloused and more sensitive.

My job as a community coordinator in a north Abilene neighborhood allows me to live in the neighborhood I am partnering with in the process of community renewal and revitalization. I am thankful for one of the core principles we have adopted from community developers like John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association: relocation. Moving into the neighborhood and nurturing and being nurtured, giving and receiving gifts, and sharing in the promises and challenges of the neighborhood, as a fellow neighbor and friend.

It just makes more sense to me; to really be there, to be involved and be “hands on.” I am connected to this place and the people in this place. I am more aware of the subtleties of my neighborhood, of the abundance of gifts that might be overlooked without close and continuous connection. I am available daily to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood: the stories and dreams and ideas of the people who know the neighborhood best – the folks living there.

Sometimes my hands get dirty. Sometimes sharp edges surface, and there are moments that surprisingly sting. But I just don’t like wearing gloves.