In 1970, Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell tied together music and environmental concern with her song “Big Yellow Taxi”. The lyrics include these lines: Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it’s gone.
Try tying your shoes . . . or pulling up a zipper . . . or opening a can of beans . . . or using a front door key . . . or brushing your teeth . . . or many other everyday things we unthinkingly do . . . without a thumb. Try any of those with your dominant hand but not using the thumb. Bummer.
The thumb is termed an opposable digit because it can be moved around to touch the other four fingers. This enables the hand to grasp items. The significance of that is difficult to grasp until one loses the use of a thumb.
The metacarpal on my right-hand thumb was shattered into numerous pieces in a motorcycle accident, and the whole hand is covered by a cast extending to the middle of the forearm. It looks kind of cute and elicits much pity. But it’s rock-hard, weighs fifty pounds, and makes the hand about as useful as a tennis racket without strings. Hitch-hiking and thumb twiddling are both not in my near future.
How many things we take for granted eh? You don't know what you've got til it’s gone. Body parts or general health. Material goods. Most importantly, relationships. A thumb is a relatively small item, but its loss, temporary or permanent, can raise one’s consciousness regarding purposeful caring for more important concerns.
I always took the thumb on my right hand for granted. To be honest, I can’t remember ever thinking specifically about my thumb one way or the other. It’s always just been there doing what thumbs do. Now that I cannot even pick up a coffee mug with my right hand, I have new respect for and appreciation of thumbs. When I get mine back, I might even start a neighborhood Thumb Up Club to raise awareness of first-digit value and encourage diligent thumb care. You can bet your bippy I’ll be looking out for mine.