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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

I want to hold your hand

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In our culture a handshake has long been recognized as a sign of trust, of friendship, and occasionally of firming a deal. Two friends meet and immediately one or both will offer a hand for the other to shake. Some societies have their secret handshakes that show the two share a special bond. A left-handed shake has special meaning.

Dignified people of both sexes used the handshake for most business or social greetings or approval. "Let's shake on it" is a time-honored saying that means we are in agreement, there are no bad feelings and we are ready to proceed with whatever plans we have made.

When Lester entered the ministry the Bishop and District Superintendents shook hands with him after graduation, ordination or appointments. Somehow in recent years, this custom has changed.

Now even in solemn religious sessions, the handshake has given way to the hug. Seeing two men hug each other would have caused stares and whispers in my youth. Now it is accepted protocol. Seeing a man and woman hug who are not related by blood or marriage was taboo. Now it happens naturally without causing comments.

Even the president is seen meeting a dignitary with a quick hug, often accompanied by one of those kisses out to space from the cheek to cheek posture of the two participants. That perhaps would be more a feminine greeting, but it also happens with men without censure.

When the hug seems a little too much, such as on the basketball court, the handshake is replaced with a high-five. It would be interesting to know how many high-fives are exchanged in any one sporting event-on the court or field. Those that happen in the stands would quadruple that number. When "our team" does something good, a ripple of high-fives goes around like a wave.

But sometimes even the high-five is not enough of a departure from former customs. It is often replaced with an action whose name I don't know. The two people involved jump up face to face and bump each other's front sides. I even saw this happen on T.V. recently with a male game show host to a female contestant. No one seemed to be bothered by the action and smiles were very evident all around.

A clap on the shoulder is still used at times but is usually replaced by either the high five or the tummy bump. (I'll call it that until I hear a better term for it.)

It's odd that these customs have appeared at the same time that physical contact in schools, especially between a teacher and a student are either discouraged or banned completely. In some schools teachers are not supposed to hug even the very small children in their charge. I'll admit that I don't remember any teacher hugging me when I was at the elementary level, but often several little girls accompanied the woman teacher, who was on playground duty, with their arms around the teacher's waist as they walked side by side through the playground.

I have heard health professionals say that it is more sanitary to kiss someone than to shake hands because of the number of germs we pick up from other people's hands. I'm not sure just where in that equation the hug, high five or tummy bump fits. I won't be at my church this Sunday so I can't use any of these greetings. I'll just smile as I think about you and keep my hands to myself.

Carolyn Gray Thornton
Middle Age Plus