I found him half-frozen. Huddled stiffly on the edge of the bird feeder, he had managed to pick up a single sunflower seed but didn’t have the energy to do anything more than just hold it in his beak. He also didn’t have the strength to resist when I gently cuddled his frost-encased body in my gloved hand, his feathery weight barely perceptible.
Once inside the house, I set him in the bucket of seeds I had intended to put into the feeder while I went in search of my repurposed aquarium bird hospital. Time to admit a new patient. When I returned several minutes later, he was still immobilized by his frigid straightjacket. Poor little chickadee. I removed my gloves to facilitate the transfer to his temporary incubator, but almost recoiled when I picked him up with my bare hands. He was… so cold!
I was surprised at my surprise. Of course, he was cold. That was beyond obvious by just looking at him and observing his behaviour. My gloves had shielded me from truly feeling the iciness of his body. Likewise, the gloves had restricted my body heat from fully enveloping him with life-giving warmth. As I cradled him in my cupped bare hands, his stiff body began to loosen and the stupor of approaching death dissipated with the melting frost.
And so I began thinking about gloves… how they keep us warm, but sometimes they also prevent us from really feeling. Maybe I’ve watched too many Jane Austen movies lately, but I couldn’t help but think of aristocratic white-gloved hands proffered daintily to lips that never quite touch, or servants whose gloved hands silently shuttle food from kitchen to table, careful to never connect with anything but plates and tureens – never the actual people they serve.
Certainly not in any way associated with white-glove protocol, hockey also came to mind. In this context, gloves protect from flying pucks and flailing sticks, but are the first thing to fall to the ice when a fight breaks out. Why? Bare fists inflict more pain.
Because I tend to think in metaphors and analogies, I began to contemplate the ways that we protect ourselves from others, keeping the gloves on so we can appear to reach out with helping hands, but not actually be affected by the vulnerability that comes with genuinely caring deeply about what another person is experiencing. Gloves preserve our warmth, but restrict it from reaching others. Maintaining our own comfort is too often more important than alleviating the pain or discomfort of others.
Sometimes we wear fear like gloves. Gloves isolate. Gloves impose boundaries.
Sometimes we are quick to drop our gloves; fingers curl in anger rather than extend in grace. Fists jab, seeking to wound rather than ameliorate. Our bare-knuckle actions demand attention rather than give consideration to others.
Living with bare and open hands is not without risk, but I am so grateful for those times in my life when someone has dared the vulnerability of “un-gloved” caring, of being willing to feel with me in genuineness and sincerity. May I always do likewise for others.