A Meditation on Working with Your Hands

Photography and writing by Raisa Tolchinsky, Poet and Herbal Crafter

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Lately I have been thinking a lot about hands. About what they hold, what they make, how they are the gateways to our bodies—who do we reach out to? Who do we hold up a palm to for a high five? Who do we push away?

Everyday my hands touch the jars of hundreds of our products (especially the lovely Vita-C). Some of these products will be shipped across hundreds of miles, across oceans and deserts and forests filled with trees older than my great-great grandmother. Tiny glass pots filled with herbs and oils will travel over not only these landscapes, but over the people who live within them as they eat dinner, bicker, love, and take out the garbage.

I guess what I mean to say is this: the world can feel scary and I don’t always know how to feel a part of something greater than myself. By greater, I mean something like that feeling you get when you are sitting around a campfire and the song being sung is one you know (and know well) and you look through the flame and catch someone’s eye and you feel—safe? Is that the word? Maybe you feel safe because you feel seen and heard and looked after and connected to something bigger than yourself, and this, in turn, allows the space for you to enter the present moment more fully.

I, like everyone else who works at Brooklyn Herborium, live in a city filled with noise and sweat and many, many people. Everyday I pass hundreds I might not ever get the chance to know. Most New Yorkers will tell you there is something freeing and luminous about this anonymity, but it can also be lonely. Most days, it is the opposite of “sitting around the campfire”–put your headphones in, your sunglasses on, walk as quickly as you can. Every so often, something happens, and you remember. That you aren’t alone. Like, for example, if you wear clogs and also have a tendency to be clumsy (ahem) and maybe you trip and maybe there are hands there, suddenly appearing, to help you stand back up.

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Every day, we fill our products into glass jars, bag and pack them, box and ship them. So many hands work hard here at Brooklyn Herborium to do these tasks.

As I am filling and labeling Vita-C, sometimes I think about the hands that will touch these jars, and what it might be like for them to unscrew the cap for the first time, to smell something like oranges on the first day of summer. Thinking about that makes me feel at peace and connected to something bigger than myself, especially in the world right now, where it is easy to feel alone and scared and without community.

It comes to this: I am learning to slow down. To slow. down. Enough to remember, with each product and step of the process, that we are making something that will travel miles (or blocks) and sit on the dressers and in the bathrooms of so many people I might never meet. The way I will know them is through this connection, this spark. Two hands touching the same thing. That thought imbues each moment, each task, with meaning. It is so easy to get distracted, to forget that even our smallest actions matter, that our hands can do good in both the smallest and biggest of ways.

I think of Maggie Smith’s wonderful poem, “Good Bones”, which is one of my favorites. She ends with this line, which sometimes, when I am tired, I repeat over and over to myself:

“This place could be beautiful, / right? You could make this place beautiful.”

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