We are all carrying empathy and sympathy for everyone broken by the vicious treatment of those of us who carry the misapplied label “illegal immigrant.” For instance, close by here a beloved family’s door was broken down, an undocumented worker arrested, and the family torn apart, four young daughters and their parents traumatized forever.
My father’s family came from Bohemia. Ridl should be spelled Hridl, but we became Americans on Ellis Island at a time when renaming was a matter of course. Through the world of my grandfather I hope this week’s poem respects and affirms our immigrant companions, and I trust in one way or another many of your relatives, too.

It was a joy this week to learn from dear former student and art therapist Maggie Machledt that Parker Palmer’s column at Krista Tippett’s “On Being” website featured this week’s poem. Coincidences like this never fail to astonish me.
Palmer has been a restorer of souls for so many of us, as well as a man who has sustained our ways of being in teaching, spiritual communities, the arts, compassionate relationships, and the ways we walk through our days.

This poem will also appear in an important, new anthology: Immigration & Justice for Our Neighbors edited by Jennifer Clark and Miriam Downey.
My thanks to Maggie, Parker Palmer, Krista Tippett, and to you who, knowing it or not, have an abiding friend in Palmer.

Here’s the poem, and here is Palmer’s column.
PS. It’s time I remind one and all (and put in tiny words my gratitude) that this project could never happen each week without Julie’s loving expertise and affirmation. 


My grandfather grew up holding rags,
pounding his fist into the pocket
of a ball glove, gripping a plumb line
for his father who built what anyone
needed. At sixteen, wanting to work on
his own, he lied about his age
and for forty-nine years carried his lunch
to the assembly line where he stood
tightening bolts on air brake after
air brake along the monotonous belt.
I once asked him how he did that all
those years. He looked at me, said,
“I don’t understand. It was only
eight hours a day,” then closed
his fists. Every night after dinner
and a pilsner, he worked some more.
In the summer, he’d turn the clay,
grow tomatoes, turnips, peas,
and potatoes behind borders
of bluebells and English daisies,
and marigolds to keep away the rabbits.
When the weather turned to frost,
he went to the basement where,
until the seeds came in March,
he made perfect picture frames, each
glistening with layers of sweet shellac.
His hands were never bored. Even
in his last years, arthritis locking every
knuckle, he sat in the kitchen carving
wooden houses you could set on a shelf,
one after another, each one different.

–Jack Ridl

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!

28 thoughts on “Hands

  1. And for all you do, for these poems, I love you even more every day. I cherish our friendship. YOU BE THE MAN!

    • Thank you, Marla. And I hope the days are bringing comfort and that
      your lucky students know how lucky they are to be with you.

  2. Thank you for the posts. My grandfather came from Poland, never learned English, but was successful. None of the grandkids know Polish and the family is completely Americanized. We can discuss the positives and negatives of our assimilation. Donna and I will be in Key West next week. Hopefully we can have a drink.

    Sent from my iPhone


    • So good to know this, Tom. Our families certainly came to
      another America. I hope we make them proud.
      We’re back in snowland. Wishing you two a wonderfully
      Key Westerly time!!!!

    • I often think that we who know we are immigrants are a nation unto ourselves.
      Man, do I hope you are having days of goodness, Tony.
      Caring always,

    • Cristin,
      Can you possibly know what it means to me–your lovingly moving message! This is what a poet hopes and hopes for–that
      the poem goes off and finds where it belongs, in the heart of one who finds there in the poem her own self and her
      own feeling and the most important way to connect with what matters most to her. To learn this has happened for
      you sustains this heart. One writes and never knows unless told; thank you so so much for telling me. Grief is an
      ambush. You are feeling pretty good, walk into the produce aisle, see of all things a cabbage and lose it. I hope that
      when you are ambushed, that comfort soon follows. When I lost my father, a bit of me left and a lot of him stayed.
      With care and caring,

  3. This morning my inbox offered me ‘this’. Until subscribing a few days ago, I didn’t know what ‘this’ really was. Can’t even remember how or where I signed on the dotted line to receive ‘this’?

    But I know this…

    9 days ago we moved to CA. Excited. Exhausted. Hopeful. 3 days ago we learned all our stuff didn’t. Didn’t move 1 inch. It still sits somewhere in Atlanta. And ‘nobody’ seems to know when it will get here.

    So today I awoke at 5. Without that excitement. Still exhausted (from cleaning this new-to-us-but-nine-years-old very in need of a broom, a bucket and immeasurable elbow grease house.) Oh…and I awoke with no hope. In fact, I was chasing despair. And I was running a good time-if I do say so myself.

    Fine technology-addicted human that I am, I went straight to my inbox as soon as my feet hit the floor. Plus, I had given God 3 days and it was obvious He wasn’t listening. Yet, there was ‘this’…this email from Jack Ridl. And then I found this Ted Talk. And while I was listening to that, I found ‘this’…directions back to the hope I’d lost. Answered prayer? You decide.

    But I know this…

    Somehow I had to find the joy of that excitement I’d laid down somewhere. And my gratitude. I had put it down somewhere too-without thinking. And if I’m honest, without all our stuff, well, maybe I could lay this exhaustion down too. Now that really would be lovely. And if i weave these 3 together, up springs the hope!

    So you see Jack, you keep changing lives with your words. I’m proof.

    Missing you. Thanks for taking time to help me find my hope.

    XO Sandy Schrec

    A Traditional Foods Enthusiast

    • Oh dear Sandy Schrec !
      What a story. Oh my gosh, you poor guys. It must feel as if you are stranded, and in a place that is not yet your own, but is supposed to be.
      Cannot imagine!
      I am glad I showed up! : ) And ya know what? Poetry is one of the finer traditional foods, comfort foods I hope.
      And you are an Enthusiast of all things good!
      love to you and the lug and now I’m gonna spin into a prayer wheel and get that stuff to you pronto.

  4. Oh, man!

    Is this ever wonderful!!

    Mary and I love that show!!!

    Read this in my journal the other day and was as always thankful for you. You might not recall the context of this–patriarchal turmoil at Hope–but I do.

    “What kind of Christian are you?!”

    “The kind who washes their feet.”


    • Ohhhh my yes, do I ever recall that turmoil. And I recall going through it about every
      four years, with each generation of students. At a department meeting with the then president
      Jacobson, I described “my” Christianity. He said, “You aren’t a Christian.” It was good to know that.
      I think it was Kierkegaard who when asked if he was a Christian replied, “God only knows.” What the hell is
      a Christian anyway? Jesus sure wasn’t one. He wanted to change Judaism, the rascal. The Beatitudes were actually a way of
      rebuking. He was saying, “NO! You are NOT the blessed. The blessed are the . . .” I remember telling you that when the president
      and provost ask you if you have accepted Christ as your lord and savior, to say, “Why wouldn’t I???!!!” My gosh, if he wants to do
      that for me, I’d be nuts not to say, “Sure, man!” But really, this response of “The kind who washes their feet,” is earth shaking.
      I am gonna steal it.
      “Go thou and do otherwise.” Roethke
      Love to you and Mary and those mad angels

  5. Your poems make me want to be a better person. A more engaged and aware person, alive to the minutia of beauty in the world.

    • Betsy, Don’t you dare try to be a better person! Betsy is who we want with us and in our lives.
      Now, yes to being alive to the beauty in the world. It just sits there waiting for “the western world’s
      sensibility” to wonder what the hell it’s been doing when it’s being that’s the wonder of it all.
      I always wonder why it’s thought that an “explanation” explains. Let’s see–here’s the explanation: You plant
      a bulb in the proper soil, make sure it’s watered, etc and that’s why a daffodil appears. HUH? That is merely
      an apparatus. The why? Nope. That ain’t an explanation.
      sending love up to you up there!

  6. Hi Jack… you were my poetry prof in 1979 at Hope . I loved it . I will never forget your speech at the 1981 graduation ” There is no Syllabus for life “. I’ve been a professor listening to far to many speeches for 30 years , and that’s the only one I remember !! God Bless You , Suzanne Galer Wert ( 1981) ps I gave a performance of song settings by Emily Dickinson for your class . I wore my little white dress . My Mom was afraid I would abandon the church like Emily !! Not true !! Ha !

    • Ohhhhhh Suzanne! What a joy to have you come visit. And with this beautiful dance of a message. Thank you so so much. I loved that class, your class.
      (Of course, I was that lucky prof who had class after class after class that he loved. : ) ) And wasn’t that a stunning performance you gave. You
      were most certainly the “Belle of Amherst” that day. Had I known of your mom’s anxiety, I would have assured her that Emily never abandoned the church.
      She knew where it really was. As did and do you. And you became a professor! Those are most certainly very fortunate students, getting to be with dear you.
      I hope you always have a bounty of those remarkable times that can happen only in a classroom. Tell me about your teaching–what, where, etc. Just email me
      at jack@ridl.com That commencement address! What a stunning compliment–that you recall it. It was so much fun staging some students to protest what I
      started out with. And then it was such a windy day that it struck me that a perfect ending would be to slip my hand under the speech and let the wind lift it
      and blow it away across the football field. Later Boyd Wilson cracked me up when he said, “Geeez, Jack! That was the first existential commencement address I
      have ever heard!” : )
      This has been a joy, talking with you. Thank you soooooo much
      Love, care, gratitude

  7. Thanks Jack both connecting me with Parker Palmer again and for the poem that in many ways describes Larry, though with a Masters degree in counseling, made to shift back to working with his hands as a carpenter — and still to this day works from some up to sundown tending his garden and making things. He will be this very grandpa to his grandchildren :-). So the beat goes on. Peace, Jane

    • Hi Jane,
      I’m smiling as I type this, thinking of Larry and what a wonderful guy he is and what an embedded image
      of “Grampa and his hands” the grandchildren will always have. Thanks so much for telling me this. I hope
      you know how much this kind of thing matters to me!
      Remember when Palmer came to Hope? Well, at least he gave support to some of us!

  8. Dear Jack,

    many years ago when I was a student I used to work during my semester breaks at the Mercedes plant in Sindelfingen near Tübingen. 40,000 workers there around 1985 or so. I tried to be one of them fixing weather strips to the doors of the S-class on a belt that seemed to have no end. It wasn’t very hard work but every eight-hour-shift felt like 8 days to us students. And after 8 weeks or so we went back to class.

    I feel ashamed today when I read what your grandfather said: It was only eight hours a day. Praise to people like your grandfather who made America great with their own hands! Today reading your poem, I feel deep respect for the people I worked with some 30 years ago, Serbs, Italians, Spaniards, Croations, Poles, Turks, Americans, Swabians. All they wanted was to make enough money to support their families.

    Thanks again for another wonderful poem and thanks for reminding me of that time!

    With kindest regards from Germany


    • Hi Norbert,
      First of all, we sure are hoping that your recovery is going well !

      This from you is so powerful, moving, poignant. Thank you so very much. My grandfather gave me the watch he was given when he retired. I would look at it whenever I lapsed
      into feeling sorry for myself because I had to respond to a stack of essays.

      With caring regards from a damaged United States.

  9. Pingback: Sometimes Monday | 8.3.20 | As Kat Knits

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