I was recently invited to exhibit a selection of photographs at our local hospital’s Healing Arts Gallery. This led to reflections about healing, and what images would be most appropriate for this show.
A few years ago I traveled to Prague in the Czech Republic. Wandering the city, I came upon a parade of visitors approaching the statue of St. John of Nepomuk on the Charles Bridge over the Vltava river and placing their hands on the metal relief. Touching the statue is thought to bring good luck. I became fascinated by the diversity of hands and of the manner of touch, and wondered what they might reveal about the person.
Hands are intimately linked to healing. Surgeon’s hands guide the precision scalpel, removing damaged or contaminated tissue or repairing wounds. A healer’s hands invisibly draw out illness of many forms and offer strength and restorative power. The gentle touch of another can offer comfort and love, easing pain and sadness.
Hands are how human beings interface with the world. Legs and feet give us mobility, but our hands act upon the world. Our eyes, our words, our expressions and body language all are critical for communicating, but our hands are the conduit for mind, heart, and spirit to create and shape reality. And they heal. In the school where I teach, we sing to the children who are in their last year a pledge: “….our hearts to you, our hands to you….” The hearts offer love, the hands express that love in tangible ways.
I therefore elected to include a number of photographs featuring hands for this Healing Arts exhibit. Hands of strangers touching a statue motivated by hope, religious devotion, or simple curiosity and impulse. Hands of a child at rest awaiting breakfast. Hands of an older gentleman peacefully dozing on a ferry. The hand of a dancer juxtaposed with a brilliant fall leaf. Hands of a toddler reaching for his mother. I think that just looking at hands can have a healing effect.
Also included are three photographs of the natural world. Through millennia people have recognized and sought out the healing and restorative power of the outdoors. Though impermanence is a characteristic of reality, nature can convey both a sense of endurance and longevity as well as a sense of life’s remarkable drive towards self-expression and replication. The timeless quality of the great landscape helps center and anchor us with the infinite, and the vitality of life’s amazing capacity for survival and thriving reminds us of our natural capacity to heal. Both of these messages can be transformational in our own healing journeys.
I chose to present my three images of nature in black and white, hoping to convey these two core essences undistracted by superficial “prettiness” or beauty. Sometimes beauty can cloak darkness, and darkness can be an aspect of power, even healing power. The photos include a glacier, an ice-filled bay surrounded by mountains, and a whale and iceberg. For me, they convey some sense of this power in a positive way. Water, an essential substance for all life, features prominently in all three images.
Actually being in Iceland and in Glacier Bay National Park connected me intimately with the vast natural beauty of the earth, leaving me humbled and awestruck. The encounter with whales while kayaking in the choppy seas off the coast of Newfoundland was the most profound and sublime interspecies encounter I have ever experienced. All three times I felt opened to the mystery and life-affirming power of the world around me, and energized by my awareness of my own participation in it.
I hope that viewers can be vicariously inspired to similar feelings of connection and healing by these photographs of hands and nature. In addition, there are four other photographers displaying their work in the show, each sharing their own vision of the world and similarly inviting visitors to enter a place of peaceful reflection and healing. We all hope you have a chance to see these.
Note: Not all the images described here are shown above. The show is at Monadnock Community Hospital and runs through February 27.