The Power of a Handshake.

Among all species, our human hands are unique. Our hands can accomplish so much but are also are critical to our communication. Our hands can play a violin, strum a guitar, play checkers, maneuver surgical instruments, and frame a new house. Our hands allow us to fold origami, build a brick wall, mend a broken knee, and permitted Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel! Our hands allow the deaf to have a voice and back up our emotions with gestures to help us find clarity. Handshakes have ended wars, sealed agreements, brought families back together, welcomed strangers and sojourners alike, and even allow healing to occur. We are expressive creatures because of our hands.  Despite all of the advances in communication, and the evolution of smart devices, most of what we say is nonverbal and expressive mainly through the gestures of our human hands.  

Throughout history, the open palm always meant safety and truth, too. Even our own Sign of Peace devolved from us checking those who would do us harm when the fledgling church, located within homes of the Roman Empire, greeted each guest with a hearty ‘pat down’ to ensure no weaponry was found on their person! Today, we offer one another a Sign of Peace primarily with a firm handshake and a warm glance.

When I was a young man, I transgressed my father’s friend. I remember feeling very badly and my father asked me to do the right thing. I went to see him, proverbial hat in hand, and he rejected my most sincere apology. Later that month, we were both attending the same event by happenstance when I found myself standing directly next to him. I turned and smiled warmly and offered my hand. I remember distinctly him looking down at my open palm, then up to my eyes before walking away without nary a word. I was heartbroken, dismayed, and so very sad. That pain is a pain I live with to this very day some 35 years later. It is a pain of something greater than just the two us; it is a pain of something gone awry with humanity.

This is why, no matter who I come across, no matter how deep our differences, no matter what they have ever done to me, or said about me, I have never ever once rejected to shake someone’s hand. It is what makes me human. It is what allows me to see the humanity of another.

Last night’s State of the Union Address by our President was shameful in many ways, and from both sides of the aisle. But, perhaps, the most egregious of actions was not an action at all. It was when the President rejected the outward and outstretched palm of the Speaker of The House. Why? Because we are better than that and surely, he is to be, too.


Leave a Reply