Washing hands became an act of love and care as well as a necessity when sickness swept through the centre where I was on retreat. We were advised to be extra vigilant – washing our hands thoroughly after coughing, sneezing, using the bathroom, before eating, before preparing food.
“Wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday to you!” the co-ordinators joked. Hand washing became a ritual, a mindfulness practice returned to many times each day. It took on extra significance with the realisation that this simple activity was an act of generosity and care for fellow human beings. As we washed our hands, we did it with the intention to cause no harm to others, to care for their health and wellbeing as well as our own.
Retreat leader Gregory Kramer described it as no less than a civic duty. So every time I go to wash my hands now, I’m reminded of this civic duty– and how it feels more like a little act of love.
Hands can caress, comfort, perform many acts of kindness. They can also crush, grasp, push away or withhold. I’d like to keep on learning how to keep my hands open - and what causes them to close. And I intend to keep on washing my hands while singing a slow rendition of Happy Birthday to you.