Beautiful Hands



     The day after Christmas found me cleaning. Exciting isn’t it! Well, I found an article I had saved by Barbara Goldsmith. Inspirational! It was the story of a man with psoriatic arthritis. The following is her first paragraph,   

      “He cannot make a fist. The right wrist’s motion is limited to 40 percent. The little finger on the left hand is numb, partially paralyzed and scarred from a childhood accident. The joints of the other nine fingers are fused. There is mobility in only one distal joint, that of the middle finger of the left hand. These are the hands of Byron Janis, who today is acclaimed as one of the world’s great piano virtuosos.”   

      I love reading about how someone pushes forward through the hard times, and finds a way to cope. Janis said that his biggest problem was fear, and how terribly crippling that it was to his life. It was more of an enemy than the arthritis. He tried to keep it a secret for a long time due to his worry about the reactions of other people. Andrew Wyeth, the painter, told him that he wanted to paint his hands because they were beautiful. Janis thought with relief how good it was that his disease was not apparent yet. Wyeth could not have known the pain, and the struggle that those hands had been through. It reminded me how we sometimes assume that we know someone’s trials when really we have only shaken hands in the dark, and have no understanding at all.   

     Picasso let him know that it was ok to ease up on practicing when it became too painful by using an example of his own work,  “If you are stuck in a painting, then stop and draw something else. Draw a flower and put your love into that flower Then your powers will come back again.”

     Finally, the  ultimate facing of the fear was at the White House recital for President Reagan.  It was announced that Janis suffered from psoriatic arthritis.  He found a way to re-finger his playing so that it was not as painful. Up to that point there had been a long series of medications, acupuncture and many other trials and errors to find a way to cope.  But I like what he said about fear the most, “The first thing that I had to conquer was fear. I realized what a debilitating thing fear is. It can render you absolutely helpless. I now know that fear breeds fear.”  So true.

     As late as November 2011, according to the link provided, Janis was working to help the arthritis cause. At one point the article stated that in the beginning of his ordeal he shut everything out and created a prison for himself out of his life. His own cube drawn by himself. He realized it, stopped it, turned it around, and found a way through by accepting his arthritis, and defeating his fear. What if he were still there shutting the world out? The music would be missing.

      I wish Van Gogh had not have given up! What did he miss? What did we not get to see?  I wish Hemingway had not given up. What did he miss?  What did we not get to read?  How many people live in their own cube not realizing just how important they are to their world?  What have they missed? What gifts have not been opened yet?  The cube is safe, but it isn’t really a home!                     



9 thoughts on “Beautiful Hands

  1. How beautiful Terri!
    I know Janis’ work but had no idea that he knows Chronic Pain. And how amazing that it’s in his hand’s that make some of the music I listen to when I am unable to cope. He & Chopin are part of my own personal arsenal.

    It’s serendipitous for me Terri that you should post this. I have been struggling with staying in my own cube because of fear. It’s not ever an easy thing to speak about when it involves feeling exposed and vulnerable. I’m grateful for the gentle reminder of what isolating means, I’m grateful to you & to Janis for having the heart to share. My fear is that someone will see that I am in pain. I go to great lengths to keep what happens to me from those I love and care about.

    Sometimes I wonder if this act of isolation is one’s own cube can be therapeutic and cathartic, processing what is happening to body, heart and mind. Illnesses that involve chronic pain, the spine, and the central nervous system and in Janis’ case also leave visible lesions and scars can often feel that our brain surely must be on overload. I can understand why he went and stayed in his cube. Working through his fear and his pain has given others the gift of what his hands can still do. It’s amazing!
    I am grateful for this. I have not been working, no art, no writing. It became too painful, physically & emotionally. Maybe we need this process that our work brings out. Maybe through our work we paint, we write our selves out the corner, or the cube. I wonder how much of Janis’ work he wrote or arranged in pain.

    It’s so cool that you found this piece and thank you for sharing. I am so sincere when I say how grateful I am for this.

    By the way: Thank you for visiting my blog about random acts of kindness, and commenting. I am going to reply there in hopes that your comment will spur on more talk about random acts of kindness. But please tell your husband that I’ll send you both a snowball just as soon as it decided to snow this year. We’ve had a small dusting and nothing sense. This is very unlike our winters.

    (Gosh Terri, I’m sorry~ I wrote a book).

  2. I loved the long comment, and when I wrote about stepping out of the cube I thought about how sometimes we need to be there exactly like you said. It is so true!!! I wanted to expound on that but I always worry about being too long. Believe me I have rabbit trails that could circle the earth, and I don’t ever want to cause someone to fall asleep in their soup as I am probably doing now!!!!!! Your RIGHT I do believe that we work our way out that way, but it becomes so frustrating when the struggle to get there is so slow. I have not played the piano hardly since my Dad died, but I painted to get the sorrow out and then I stopped. Somehow I want to paint again, and I started practicing again a year ago. It is all so much more complicated than that though…isn’t it. Especially if one has to deal with chronic pain….my goodness I feel for you and I hope somehow that you can do some artwork soon. I have dealt with chronic pain for 22 years. I am fortunate that even though medication would be nice… I can’t stand to take it….so I just manage in other ways. I realize that there are levels of illness, and that mine is manageable is a blessing. I know what I can and can’t do in order not to make it worse. About the snowball….thanks ….. he kept a snowball in the freezer for years… well it is still in there. A year ago I had to start writing not on my blog but personally to work my way out of that corner you were talking about. It was a very very slow process, but I worked my way up to this blog that has brought so much delight. Thanks for listening, and I will be listening to you also.

  3. Pingback: Thank you, Kate | Daily Sweet Peas

  4. This is a beautiful piece, Terri — sensitive and filled with wisdom. I’ve often wondered why some people give in to that need to escape their own lives, while others like Janis push on through the struggle. And yes: Hemingway, Van Gogh, and so many others. What did we miss? I guess we’ll never know, and all we can do is focus on what we have, and who’s still here. Thank you for putting this into words.


Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s