A woodworker’s thoughts about hope and love

I am a studio furniture maker. Four months ago I began working on an ark for a synagogue. I was shaking with excitement that morning, ready to begin this long-anticipated project. In the first few minutes, I completely severed all four fingers on my dominant hand just above the knuckles closest to my palm. I fell to my knees and began to weep, not out of the pain and horror of the accident but from the fear that I was finished as an artist. That instant was a big bang of sorts, exploding into my reality a new universe of possibilities.

Everything following the accident went my way. I was not alone and my shopmate was extraordinary in his managing of the situation. I owe Hugh my fingers. The Helicopter ride to Harborview, a four-surgeon team led by one of the best hand surgeons in the region, 16 hours of microsurgery and 10 sweating, morphine-clouded days in a 95-degree hospital room are now distant memories.

Returning home I began the task of healing. From the beginning of that period until now, I realized that I had been given a gift in the form of a wound. That recognition was the realization that opportunities exist in all things and I had the power to create a tragedy, or by clear and careful attention, uncover truth.

More generosity soon followed in the form of an offer to build and install the ark. I was moved to tears and when I asked Paul whether he knew what he was getting himself into, he replied, “I am fortunate to be able to do a good deed and you will do good deeds, too.” With this offer, I fell into a wonderful daily rhythm. I returned to a steady meditation practice, returned calls and emails, helped with the family needs as much as I could and began work on the veneer for the ark. A part of the fabric of the day, I started to look forward to their visits.

Soon after my return home from the hospital, my good friends Julie Kreigh and Nate Thomas – with support from Julie Rosenblatt – organized a meal calendar and we began receiving dinners three times a week for the next three months! Witnessing this outpouring of community support, I began to receive something as sustaining as the food itself. When I would come to the door to welcome a meal-bringer (sometimes a stranger!), I observed a field of happiness and compassion that emanated from each one. It became abundantly clear to me; I was witnessing the pure act of giving. “Look, this poor nudnick cut his fingers off. I better make him a meal. He needs to get better and his family needs help!”

It was such a simple and clear response to my condition that it provided me a means to look right into the nature of who we really are and revel in that discovery over and over again. In a world eager to report on terror and loss, I was delivered a periodical of goodness, hope and love.

My love, respect and admiration for my wife, Judy, have grown every day since the accident. My children, Noah and Tova, are growing from this experience. I am, to the best of my abilities, using it as a chance to model for them a way to embrace challenges in life and rise up. I am ever grateful for our community and I offer some of my experience as a “thank you” to the many, many friends and neighbors who have helped us.

I am looking at my four pink fingers that are wiggling on my right hand as I type with my left. The road to recovery is long. I would be disingenuous if I gave the impression that I don’t have bad moments or days in which limitation and loss try to establish a front line in my consciousness. Just yesterday I pined for the sensual feel of my hand-plane against my palm.

I know that my hand will never have as much function as it enjoyed before, but I am optimistic that it will continue to serve me faithfully as my guide and as an instrument capable of reaching out and doing good deeds in the world.

Aaron Levine is a member of the Northwest Gallery of Fine Woodworking and a volunteer for Kitsap County Juvenile Diversion.

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