In contemplation of how my hands have learned to do what they do
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When I was 12 or 13 years old, I began working with my Dad. Now that my two boys are about the same age, I’m reminded of that time.
I would go out with him on the weekends. And in the summer when school was off, he had me working as a tea boy for the lads on the building sites. Although some of the men gave me a hard time, for the most part, it was a good experience, and I made a few quid too.
When I wasn’t making tea and doing shop runs, he would put me working with some of the more experienced tradesmen, the ones he trusted to teach me. They taught me the basics of the trade, which was to prove a distinct advantage to me later as an apprentice.
I was sharp enough academically and given my own choice, I would have stayed studying. But I enjoyed using my hands too, so when the opportunity to start an apprenticeship came up, and with pressure from my parents not to look a gift horse in the mouth, I took it.
My friends were still in school, and there I was, out in the big bad world at 16, making money and learning practical things. Things of which I would not otherwise have had any knowledge. Things that would ultimately broaden my perception of the world.
I felt I was ahead of my school mates, but I didn’t believe I was going anywhere important. There was no big thing to achieve. I was merely doing the job because it interested me, not because I was striving to become something. I was in it, and although there were aspects of the work I disliked, I didn’t wish I was somewhere else.
Today, as I work at whatever it is I am doing, I observe my hands as they do their thing entirely automatically. It seems that having been engaged in the craft as I have pretty much every day for 30+ years, my body has developed a particular set of automated skills. If I consciously tried to form these skills today, I wouldn’t know where to start.
How do my hands know how to move and perform as they do?
Like a murmuration of starlings in flight over fields, the cloud of atoms and molecules of my hands move as one. The vast complexity of cells in my body knows exactly what to do and when to do it. They don’t need my conscious instruction or direction, I just need to be there, ready, and they do the rest.
I’ve no clue how this happens, either does science, but I’m sure there must have been a decided effort on my part to want to learn, to do the very best I could. Besides, behind that conscious intention, there must have been something else working. Otherwise, where would the motivation and application have come from?
It seems the skills came about by themselves.
Maybe that’s how everything happens.
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