[Viewpoint]The beauty of a helping hand

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[Viewpoint]The beauty of a helping hand

If you visit Daelim Contemporary Art Museum in Tongui-dong, Jongno District, you will see many hands. The current exhibition, “Speaking with Hands,” displays the private collection of Henry Buhl. Each photograph captures the hands of celebrated figures: the pale hands of Andy Warhol, the rough hands of sculptor Henry Moore, the delicate hands of poet and playwright Jean Cocteau, the playful hands of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, the enchanting hands of artist Georgia O’Keeffe with a thimble on her finger, the passionate hands of revolutionary Leon Trotsky and the fist of heavyweight boxing world champion Joe Louis.

However, among the many hands I came to know in the exhibition, I was most impressed by the wrinkled and rough hands of Mother Theresa. Her hands were saying, “If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.”

Gaemi Village in Geoyeo-dong, Songpa District is a poor yet warm place. People displaced from downtown Seoul moved here starting in the 1960s and formed the village along with native residents. While most of the first migrants have left the village, there are many poor elderly there. Since 2003, these old and sickly residents are visited by caring hands every Monday.

These hands belong to Dr. Ju Jeong-bin. He has been caring for over 5,000 patients free of charge. He himself is an old man at age 87. Three years ago, he slipped on the ice and fell on his way to a house call, and the accident injured his left arm. He is not in the healthiest condition, but still he comes without fail to Gaemi Village to treat his patients. The hands of Dr. Ju are literally a lifeline for the old, sick and poor people in Gaemi.

Dr. Jim Yong Kim, who has been appointed as president of Dartmouth College, is a brilliant man who earned his M.D. from Harvard Medical School and his Ph.D. in anthropology at Harvard as well. However, I would say his hands are even more beautiful than his brain. While studying at Harvard Medical School in 1987, he co-founded the nonprofit medical organization Partners in Health with his colleague, Dr. Paul Farmer, and began providing medical assistance to underserved communities in the United States and South America.

Starting in the mid-’90s, he led a large-scale campaign to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in Peru, and as the director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS department, he expanded treatment and prevention programs worldwide. During his tenure, the number of patients treated increased from 300,000 to 1.5 million.

Dr. Kim became the first Asian-American to become president of an Ivy League school because of his passionate service and because he dedicated his hands to those in need.

In her last days, Audrey Hepburn wrote a letter to her son. “Remember, if ever you need a helping hand, it’s at the end of your arm. As you get older, remember you have another hand: the first to help yourself, and the second to help others.”

We teach our children how to use their brains, but we often forget to teach them how to use their hands.

Of course, it is not something you can teach. Parents, seniors and the older generation have to make an example first, and the young will naturally feel and learn how to help others.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that the one who succeeds in the end is not someone with brilliant brains but someone with beautiful hands.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chung Jin-hong
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