By Jane Tawel
I have never, ever had pretty fingernails. You may remember my sister Julie. Julie of the long, long, long to- her- knees true -yellow blond hair. Julie of the pretty smile. Julie of the pale, moon-kissed skin. Julie of the many pretty friends. Julie of the perfect fingernails. Yes, that Julie. Julie used to have beautiful “as long as she wanted” fingernails –long before acrylics. Real, home-grown long fingernails– before nail spas. When really long, pointy sharp fingernails were in, we used to call her nails, the “Ginsu Knives” — after these sharp knives advertised on television. This was before cable t.v. and infomercials, so you pretty much believed what you saw. This was before every show was a reality show – who wanted to watch reality? We wanted Mayberry and Bonanza and the Brady Bunch. Who would think reality shows and infomercials would ever be “in”? I don’t watch television much now so maybe info-mercials are still not “in”, but pretty fingernails have always been “in”. I imagine First Woman, Eve, had gorgeous long, hard –as- nails fingernails without Sally Hansen’s help.
I have a sort of false pride in my crummy nails. Obviously false, since no one envies them. My nails are truly ugly – Hulk- nail ugly, Gollum-ugly, Shrek-ugly. I refuse to get “fake” nails, and I emphasis the “fake” as a sort of Caesar Chavez revolutionary fingernail stance. Actually I am, as in many things, not revolutionary but deeply afraid. I fear acrylic nails since, and I heard this from a reputable source, probably online where I hear most reputable things, that acrylic nails eat your own nails underneath. Your own nails get eaten by the fake nails, kinda’ like that gigantic plant that ate New York. Getting fake nails seems to me like getting plastic surgery. I would always know that they weren’t really mine. Not mine from birth. Of course my hair is not really colored mine, since birth, but that involves a minor chemical reaction and not a scalpel or super glue. I am also deathly afraid of any sort of non-necessary medical intervention and having seen my daughter, Clarissa, once get fake nails and then have to have them removed so she could play soccer – well, let’s say her recovery time rivaled the recovery time of a C-section. It was a C-section for nails to get those fake suckers off!
I have never bitten my nails, but they look bitten. I have always imbibed a lot of milk, but my nails look like I never drank milk. I have never tanned leather with my bare hands, but it looks like I have tanned leather with my bare hands. I clip my nails short, but they seem to grow in sort of Picasso-esque shapes. Two of them, one middle finger and one thumb (though technically not a finger, still considered a fingernail in a set) got mangled somehow somewhere along the way long ago, probably when I was still in the womb or when I was first dating. I was told once by a hand model who of course back then had to have naturally perfect nails– (Yes, it is my lot in life to be surrounded by perfectly nailed people. I of course, had to move to California, rather than somewhere like Leeds or Afghanistan. I do not think there is anyone left in the entire state of California other than I, who does not have perfect nails. Men included.) I was told by this hand model, who always wore white gloves with cream slathered inside, that these misshapen nails of mine would never grow out of their problems. It was like having nails that were always going to be going through puberty, with eternal nail acne. My middle finger and thumb nails are just always going to be two hunking, ugly pimples, never poppable. The hand model assured me that I had evidently somehow so damaged the beds of these nails, that the one with the crack would always have that crack no matter how many times I cut it or babied it or how much gelatin I ate; and the one with the deep groove, would always have that deep groove because the bed would just keep growing and growing with the groove coming from the very depths of my own, private, under the skin, fingernail purgatory. You know, not many people realize how smart hand models are, but let me tell you, this hand -modeling girl was absolutely right, because twenty years after she prophesied the future of my abused nails, they still look as if their owner works barehanded in a rock quarry.
Yesterday I took two of my daughters, Clarissa and Verity, for a pedicure and manicure. Now, we are not the “Take Your Daughters for Pedi-Manis” type of family that all of the entire rest of people in California are, (including the men). I think some women in California are actually having little mini-pedicures and manicures done in-vitro now. But it was so fun to splurge on my daughters after a hard week. They half-heartedly encouraged me to get acrylic nails; half-heartedly because by now they know how acute is my false pride in low maintenance. This is their mom after all, who calls the Salvation Army Thrift Store her Special Consignment Shop. So I sat in the waiting chair, happily hearing my girls chatter with the lovely sounding and lovely looking Vietnamese women. I was so relieved that these lovely soft sounding and beautifully groomed Vietnamese women, did not have to take a chisel to the calluses on my feet, nor that they might pass out at one look at my Hulk-nails. We went home three happy women, two with pretty nails and one with her pretty pride in tact.
But the next day at home, when I was cutting off the little torn thumb nail, because if you don’t cut it early it will catch on something and rip and really, really, really hurt for a long time — as I was cutting it (okay, biting it with my teeth) –I felt a little wave of pity for it. I felt it was my little Special Needs fingernail. I wanted to give it some meaning in life beyond just protecting my worthless thumbnail bed. So of course, being me, I found a little analogy in my nail, and it was a good, positive, “you are capable of so much more” thumbnail analogy.
This journey of Life has had a lot of wrong turns and there have been times when I wasn’t sure of where God was, where I was with God, or worse, whether my children would ever know Him at all. But I know that I am where I am and who I am today, because long ago when I was a child, God and God’s people, my family, my churches, my youth groups and Christian schools and colleges and collective strange angels along the way, kept wearing grooves in my soul. No matter how many times I shoved God aside and tried to exchange my soul for a fake, meaningless, “not- mine -since -birth” acrylic coating, God kept finding people to imperceptibly keep wearing a groove in my soul. The groove of God’s grace and goodness remain, deeply imbedded under my skin, and each time whenever I finally grow out of excuses, get tired of running away, or hiding, or trying to paint over my sins and sorrows, the groove is still there.
Isn’t it just like the great Hand-model of all time to give Himself a pair of battered, carpenter -bashed, and literally nail-scarred hands as the epitome of the Imago Dei? Jesus with no false sense of pride, modeled nail scars in His hands and promised, “My grooves will never leave you, nor forsake you.” “Groove a child in the way she should go and when her life grows out, that groove will still be there.” (A paraphrase of Prov. 22:6)
So just like Jesus renamed Peter and Paul, today I gave my little special grooved thumbnail and forked fingernail, new names: God’s Groove of Grace and The Nail Scarred Finger. They are reminders that once God makes His mark on the bed of your soul, He will never let it grow out, even if you try your hardest to cover it over with something not real.
And the advantage to having crummy nails is that you never mind helping people with things that might break or chip perfect nails. Today it is good to see my ugly scary looking nails, like stigmata, and realize that even in my imperfectness, maybe especially in my imperfectness, God chooses to imprint His Son’s scarred hands on mine.