The case of the stiff fingers

Papa’s fingers

Papa was supposed to visit us in August of 2018, but his unexpected death came that July, just before his intended visit to Israel.

I last saw him in person in the summer of 2017.

One of the last memories I have of Papa is him showing me his right hand. He bent his index finger at a ninety degree angle and then unbent it by using his other hand. “I can’t unbend my fingers any more,” he said. He was 69-years-old at the time.

My fingers

Often, I relive this particular memory because, while I’m only 42 years old, my fingers sometimes stiffen.

Of course, this only occurs after I’ve carried many heavy grocery bags over a long distance, or when I clench my hands for an extended period of time. And, even then, I can straighten out my fingers without the use of my other hand; it just takes me a bit of effort and focus… But it’s uncomfortable and slightly painful.

While the stiffness in my fingers is nothing compared to what Papa’s had been at 69-years-old, I also feel sharp tinges when I’m typing, which I spend much of my days doing; and I sometimes feel them even more acutely when I’m bending and unbending my digits while counting syllables.

Anyway, more than anything else, it’s a reminder of my mortality.

Papa’s smoking

When I think back to that same summer of Papa’s final visit, I also remember seeing him smoking a cigarette outside, near the front door of our apartment building. That was something that I hadn’t seen him do in many years.

Papa had been an on-again-off-again smoker for much of his life. He’d first picked up smoking as a teenager in the USSR – with teachers who favored him. Later in life, he regretted his addiction, and he quit… but then, not entirely surprisingly, he started again. I’m honestly not sure how many times he quit and picked up smoking again, but he was never proud of it.

In his later years, Papa attempted to hide his smoking and would deny it when confronted. That’s why I was surprised to see him smoking so close to the front door of my apartment building in Jerusalem… not because I thought that he’d given it up… but because he was ashamed of it.

I was in a hurry to pick my daughter up from her preschool that day when I ran by him, as he sat smoking his cigarette… I was running late and didn’t have time to stop. What I remember feeling, more than anything else, was disappointment; and that probably came across to in him. To this day, I still remember his embarrassed, apologetic eyes.

42 thoughts on “The case of the stiff fingers”

  1. We often convey our opinions, fears, concern, and love in ways that are condemning. No words needed. I can feel this, David. No one’s perfect in any way. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. How can we be tender with ourselves when we judge ourselves from the high ground? Be gentle even in your grief for at heart there is no true pinnacle to reach, just to live in the moment, I was very touched by this – it reminded me of my father smoking and a similar reaction.

  3. I love the details woven into your sharing here. It strikes me how that memory of the smoking has risen up in your ageing fingers recalling your Dad’s own ageing fingers. You know, I think he’d be proud of the wisdom rising in these memories.

    I have memories like that too of my Mama. She had arthritis and my joints trouble me some now also. And where I judged her in the past, I really don’t anymore. Compassion (suffering with) joins us together – eternally ๐Ÿ˜Š.

  4. It’s startling at times how these seemingly random memories can stick with us for so long and be so intense. My dad put me in the hospital twice before I was five years old due to his constant, unapologetic smoking–I had bad asthma as a kid and his smoking caused me to develop severe pneumonia (picture a little kid with blue lips in an oxygen tent, gasping for air–that was me). He “quit” only when the doctor told him he’d end up killing me if he continued smoking. I believe he resented me for years because of this. He returned to his smoking many times over the years, but eventually switched to chewing tobacco (and assumed he’d “beaten” his addiction). I’ve never smoked in my life, but I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it can be to quit and how destructive it can be to not only the smoker but to everyone in his or her radius.

    As an aside, have you been checked for possible carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis with regards to your finger stiffness and pain?

    1. Mike, wow… That is so serious… I cannot believe that story. I mean, I believe it, but… Jeez.

      I think I probably should do some sort of exercises for my fingers…


  5. I smoked about a pack a day for forty some years, on and off, from my teens to my sixties. Stopped many times but always started again, until the last time I stopped in January 2007. Since that time, it – the moratorium – has held. Mostly because of the strategy I used, or so I tell myself. I still smoke in my dreams, sometimes. Wake up with fear and then pleasure when I realize it was only a dream, not a real cancer taco. On rare occasions I deliberately stand near smokers so I can smell the delicious poison. It is very a powerful drug. I miss it. But my lungs are weak and I dare not go back.

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