4th March

The Hand

He looked at his right hand. He brought its pink fingers and trimmed nails closer to his face. Was it this hand? How many times had it made the sign of the cross or been raised aloft as he blessed individual men, women and children, whole crowds and congregations of them? Was it really this hand that had held the host for fifty years? He turned it this way and that as if it were not attached to him but an object to be inspected, inquired into. And yes, that was what he was doing: asking questions of the hand, of himself.

He tried to remember it younger, himself as a young priest. The certainty of faith that he had felt – or that he seemed to remember feeling – was so far away now that he almost laughed. He thought of all the great and petty men he had met – politicians and statesmen, leaders of business or war or other faiths. That hand had shaken so many other hands, and sometimes, away from the public gaze, he had wiped or washed it thinking of the deceit, cruelty or hatred it had touched. It was easier to forgive in public than it was to forgive in one’s heart.

It had touched women’s hands too, that hand. He had never understood women. They had loved him, the devout ones, but he had given them nothing in return – nothing, at least, of essence. They had said he was courageous, but he knew himself better than they did. If he could pray now, he would pray that the women might forgive him.

But he could not pray. He stared at the hand. It would not join together with the other in prayer again. He was beyond prayer.

If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee.

He was quite alone. I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. As if it could be that easy.

He wished he was dead, a sinful wish, but it was the one thing he felt that was clean and true and without doubt. If the hand could act without his will, he would not resist it.

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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