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The hand may be the most distinctly human appendage. We spend our lives with our hands right in front of us, reaching, touching, fingering, scratching, and doing much of the work our lives require. Early man blew paint around his hand, leaving a clear mark that he'd visited certain of the caves of Southern France.

Cemetery hands tend to be shown doing one of four things: clasping, praying, pointing, and blessing. All these signs show that the deceased's relationships involve human beings. (The hand to the right is the hand of God reaching down from a cloud to lay a flower on a grave.) The hand says "Here I lived". From the fact of this life, the hand directs us to spiritual matters (e.g. the presence of God) or to the endurance of human feelings (clasping hands often symbolize a marriage or other close bond).

Photo: Burying Ground, Somesville, Maine
Copyright 2000 by Joel GAzis-SAx