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The Lasting Mark Of Human Hands

The red ocher palm prints on the cover of the magazine were handshakes across time. "Stone Age Cave Art Discovered at Avignon" read the caption.

My mind was off and running: Who were those Paleolithic hunters that roamed the reaches of southern Europe 20,000 years ago? How could they afford, pursuing raw survival, to pause and etch on cavern walls those graceful flying horses? Where did they learn to blend chiaroscuro contouring on big-humped bison outlines? Why were the shoulders stabbed by slash-mark spears? With what intention? Ritual observance? Symbolic power?

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And, pressed above the enigmatic animal figures, most inscrutably of all - red human hand prints.

Was this art or smudgy workmanship? I read the accompanying text, which raised more questions than it answered. I flipped back to the cover where the hand prints waved their hopeful, shy hellos, like ciphers that may never be decoded, beckoning into a far-off future.

My daughter brought similarly painted hand prints home from kindergarten, years ago. We saved them in her scrapbook. A little poem, framed between the blue print on the left and the red print on the right, tells me what these hand prints mean.

"Every day I'm growing, I'll be grown some day

And all these tiny hand prints will surely fade away.

So here's a final hand print just so you recall

Exactly how my hands looked when I was very small."

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Molly's hands are much bigger now, able to span octaves on our piano. Those strong hands practice daily, sending song into the air. Her unrecorded music is a hopeful art, gone the moment the sound waves pass my ears. But I etch the image of those artful hands upon my mind, record her lips, pursed sternly, and the study of her concentrated brow. For these are symbols: Molly working hard at art. And if she never blooms into a concert pianist, I'll still see the little smile at the corners of her mouth, for at that moment, the music pleased her. Passion found expression. We'll call that art.

I can see some caveman put his charred stick down, wipe the smudges on his thigh, then, in a burst of final satisfaction, press his hand above the work that pleased him on the cavern wall. "There!" he marks. "I did it! Mine!"

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