Middleham and St. Peter's Parish


The Secret Hand Wave

Posted by Joan Shisler on

The Secret Hand Wave

Passing the peace during worship services is something we do very well at Middleham and St. Peter’s Parish.  We warmly embrace each other every chance we get.  We hug and shake hands to let each other know we genuinely care about each other.  In fact one of the things Pastor Linda, our interim rector, immediately noticed about us was that we took our time greeting one another, chatting and engaging in fellowship, making sure not to miss anyone, during the passing of the peace, so much so that is was difficult to get us to resume the service in a timely manner.  She quickly realized this was important to us and let us take our time to do it.  In a matter of weeks this has all changed.  Social distancing is the word(s) of the year and may become Time Magazine’s cover of the year or as in 1982 when the Computer was Time’s cover of the year, the dreaded symbol of the Corona Virus will forever take it’s place in history, a non-person, on the cover as well.

For a while now we have all been aware of not only the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, but of the ripple effects of it.  Once discovered, it and the ripples spread like wildfire.  As scientists are frantically trying to find a vaccine or a cure and medical personnel are trying to cope with the onslaught of sick people, with a shortage of space, staff and supplies, we the people, are frantically trying to figure out what to do about it.  Washing your hands is the primary task.  Coughing or sneezing into a tissue or into the crook of your elbow is high on the list.  Standing six feet away from people, no shaking hands and staying home if you’re sick with anything are also in the top ten.   Better yet, just stay home.  Don’t panic, don’t hoard, and don’t worry.  Yeah right. 

            Shaking hands, in most cultures, is an accepted way of greeting someone in a warm, friendly, honest and trustworthy way.  Shaking someone’s hand can tell you a lot about a person.  A firm handshake shows confidence.  A wishy washy grasp tends to indicate insecurity.  Offering a hand, palms up,  (indicates servitude, the recipient should take charge), palms down, (shows you are authoritative and can take charge and the lead), or palms vertical (shows equality on all fronts), all provide insight to our greeting intentions.  Making a hand sandwich, (offering a hand and placing your other hand on top of the recipients), indicates familiarity, concern and caring.  The handshake with the other hand grasping the recipient’s arm is always suspicious.  For now, actually shaking someone’s hand is off the table.  Handshaking used to be considered an automatic gesture, a universal symbol and tool for bringing people together.   For now, we can only dream about the day when we might actually get to do that again.  For now we are dreaming up different ways to show we care about our fellow human beings.             

I’m sure something resembling the handshake has existed in some form or another for thousands of years.  The history of the handshake traditionally dates back to the 5th century BC in Greece when it was a symbol of peace, showing that neither person was carrying a weapon.  In ancient Rome a handshake was a symbol of friendship and loyalty.  Homer described handshakes several times in his “Iliad” and “Odyssey” as a display of trust.  Maybe while you’re stuck at home you should consider reading or re-reading some of the classics.  Today, depending on what country you are in, the handshake has certain cultural implications that differ greatly from American customs.  Since it will be some time before we are able to actually visit other countries, why not take this time to travel afar virtually and maybe even learn a few words in a different language.  You might find out what form of greeting is acceptable in foreign countries and what American gestures can provoke serious complications if offered unwittingly.

When our circumstances changed from free and easy to confined and difficult we all faced a collective moment of fear and uncertainty.  Fear also spreads like a virus, but we do have some control over that.  Step by step we should realize that we are adaptable and creative.   With the Internet at our fingers tips we can be resilient, strong and capable.  Social distancing is not the same as social isolation.  We can be more connected than ever with phone calls and video chats and computers.  While we cannot be together in the same church building on Sundays, we can still worship together, have faith together and pray together.  We can support each other and spend some quality time with each other, time that used to be a luxury, which in these trying times seems to be an opportunity.  Easter is the season of resurrection and hope.  There is a sliver of light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.  Where is God in all this?  There is a master plan in the works that we may not know about, but everything happens for a reason.   We’ll get there!

The big question here is one I’m sure all of you are wondering about; will we ever shake hands again, or any time soon, in person and with the same vim and vigor we once did?  We might just have to come up with a new secret hand wave.  There is no shortage of comical, creative and fun alternative “handshakes” that have been mastered by men, women and children all over the world.  Why not try and make up a secret handshake or wave of your own while practicing social distancing and preparing for what is to come?  Who knows, a new phase in greetings may evolve out of all of this uncertainty and become the new greeting of choice.   In my book, the best secret handshake / wave / greeting that we can all practice, even from a distance, is and will always be, a smile.  Hang in there.  We’re all in this together.  Be safe.  Be conscientious.  Be healthy.  Believe.



Joan Shisler, Senior Warden