Hands across the oceans

April 28, 2011

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Walter, Walter, lead me to the altar
I’ll make a better man of you.
Walter, Walter, lead me to the altar
And make all my nightmares come true

—Gracie Fields, songwriter

LONDON – Kate’s hand gets the wedding ring. William’s hand gets nothing. Kizza’s hand gets a bullet through it. These are the hands in today’s papers and palaces and dusty streets.

Kate and William, you know as the lovely couple. William gave the engagement ring — a ring once on his mother’s hand — to Kate while the two hiked Mount Kenya. William, though, will go without a wedding ring because he says that’s just the way that many royal guys, including his father, have done it.

Kizza is Kizza Besigye, the opposition leader in Uganda, where folks have been walking to work every Monday and Thursday of late to show kinship with Ugandans devastated by skyrocketing fuel and food costs.

Hundreds of everyday Ugandans have been rounded up and arrested.

Police need to keep the roads clear, you see. So their fingers have pulled triggers and shot Besigye in the hand, an innocent boy in the head, a pregnant woman in the stomach, several others dead.

In grief and bewilderment, Ugandans now put their hands over their faces. These are the calloused and gnarled hands of the hopeful and hopeless, desperate hands often held out, even held out to me, these, the hands I’m leaving behind.

Some are in Kisementi, a dilapidated plaza in Uganda’s capital Kampala, where vendors run over broken tarmac to hold up their fruits and vegetables. See this one familiar beggar now hobbling on his hands, swinging his torso through them like in a circus because his legs are gone from war or other things you don’t want to know.

But I am en route home to Canada, in transit through the United Kingdom, this doorway of reverse culture shock where things are glimmering with cautious hope.

Cautious because we know the backstory to this fairy tale wedding: the prickly old prince who couldn’t make up his mind, or who made it up wrongly, and poisoned his beautiful princess. As a boy, William was left, literally, with nightmares of it all.

I think of my own marriage, like any, one with both promise and responsibility. This July 29, my wife Jean and I celebrate 10 years since we held each other’s hands and said our vows. By some fluke, we were wed 20 years to the day after Charles and Diana. I, too, had a broken home with a dead mother, something now long-buried under the joys of marriage.

In this time I have found the ring itself — I had a very good one — is somewhat dispensable. Last summer I lost it in an Ontario lake. Shortly later I found a $10 replacement in New Mexico. I’m still considering a ring tattoo.

Still, Jean says William should wear a ring. “It would make him seem cared for,” she says. “And committed.”

I think of the first time I heard Jean give a public address. I gave her perfect 10s on her evaluation form and wrote “I want to marry the speaker!” I recall what she would say in those early years when she shared about needy places like Uganda.

“What is it that you have in your hands? What is it that you can offer? It may be more than you realize.” That’s what she would say, holding her hands open, open to give and open to receive.

I have seen so many hands lately: hands of passport officials and hotel clerks, taxi drivers and waitresses, Syrians on television, their fists pounding the air, and, of course, the hands of my three children which I’m always telling them to keep to themselves.

On Easter, in our hotel room, my wife and I read to these children about Christ’s hands, the gentle and healing hands mangled by nails driven through them, driven by heavy hammers held in powerful grips. Some witnesses would have raised their own hands to their mouths in horror.

It seems to me that while this royal wedding is a pleasant distraction for so many of us, things haven’t changed much in 2,000 years.

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April 28, 2011 • Posted in ,
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