It’s Gonna Happen
“…and then he just put his hand out like he wanted me to shake it. And I was like, brah, not gonna happen.”
My friend was telling a story about meeting someone new, someone he didn’t know, who put out his hand in the customary gesture of a handshake. We laughed a little. But only moments later we were wondering together whether the convention of shaking hands when meeting someone new would ever return. And we agreed that only time would tell, but it would likely come back some day.
These conventions, these agreements, these ways of being together, meeting one another, continue for many to be altered in our daily lives. The quotidian, the happenings of daily life, even the formerly mundane, seem still to blip against our internal warning systems when we sense something dangerous in what others are doing. It is intriguing to feel the instinct that likely helped every single ancestor we have to survive, the one for self preservation, to pop up in ways we never imagined. I mean, I never thought someone putting their hand out to touch me would cause the kinds of head shaking, “what were they thinking” response it does right now.
Touch reveals vulnerability. In this case, it is the vulnerability to transmission of a virus. And touch between loved ones reveals the open kind of vulnerability that accepts needed affection, especially in times of stress. And touch reveals a lot more for some. Today, in creative and beautiful ways, ashes will be imposed upon the brows of many throughout the world. The palms gathered last year on the Sunday before Easter will be burned, the ashes mingled with oil or blessed water, and somehow, with as much safety as possible, those who observe Ash Wednesday will be reminded, “From dust you come, to dust you will return.”
There may not be a year on record in most of our lives when this reality was so present in our minds. I did not live through any of the nation’s large-scale wars, but even in those cases, the battles raged elsewhere at the hands of professionally trained combatants. This battle rages in many homes, hospitals, and in the hands of those we know and love. The reminder that we are mortal, that a handshake is laughable, has never been more present in mind.
It’s true that many of the rituals we have known have altered. But the church that comes daily to the altar of the world is one that weathers all that the world holds. The vulnerabilities revealed by touch break open at times in longing, in fear, and in loss. But those same vulnerabilities, when understood, when cared for, and when accepted, are the pathway to true intimacy, not only with one another, but between ourselves and the truth that we are dust, and to dust we will return. And that intimacy, that acceptance, is the wellspring of freedom from regret, freedom from resentment, and freedom to take this day in hand, greet it as the offering it is, and to live it as fully and as meaningfully as we can.
And if you’re saying, “brah, not gonna happen…” just keep trying. It’ll get easier.
And may it ever be so,
Rev. T. J.