We will never return to life as it was prior to the devastation called COVID-19.
How can we?
Everyone knows someone who was taken by this plague.
We all know families destroyed and people deeply scarred.
I receive as many as nine announcements a day about funerals.
Funerals I'm not permitted to attend, condolence calls I can only fulfill virtually.
After this the plague passes, whenever it passes, life will not be the same.
Little things will not be the same.
For example, I'm a chin stroker. I suppose I started this idiosyncratic gesture and habit when I had a beard. I felt distinguished. It was almost de rigeur for any man with a beard who wanted to appear thoughtful or sophisticated to stroke his chin.
Beardless for many years, I still, unconsciously, stroked my chin.
These days, when I catch myself in the act, my hand freezes mid-stroke.
I am in violation of one of the fundamental safety rules of COVID-19.
I am not keeping my hands away from my face.
This sounds trivial, but it’s not. This is serious stuff.
I'm also a hand-shaker.
My father taught me that shaking hands was more than the perfunctory act of saying hello or goodbye.
It was an art form.
It was a conduit for important messaging.
It said a lot about me and even more about the person whose hand I shook.
My father taught me to give a proper handshake, not a "dead fish" one.
He also taught me how important it was to seize the moment and convert it into a positive first impression. This critical unspoken message is no more.
Elbow bumps, the COVID-19 heir to the handshake, is at best a poor replacement.
No nuance, no style — all bump.
In the spectacular political novel "Primary Colors," attributable to Joe Klein, which was really a portrayal of Bill Clinton’s rise to power, the author (first named only as Anonymous) describes three distinct handshakes employed by the protagonist of the book.
A double-handed handshake, a hand to elbow shake and the most powerful of all, a hand-to-shoulder shake. Clinton mastered the art of shaking hands.
Handshakes have a history. That history is now about to end. We will get over it.
We will make do. In the Arab world and in Asia they often don’t shake hands.
But our world, the Western world, was different.
The handshake has its roots in ancient Rome.
A proper handshake was a right hand extended towards and clasping the right hand of another. When a person extended their hand, they were offering a message of peace.
Romans wore their dagger in their waistband, always on their left side of their tunic.
Their dagger hand was their right hand.
To reach your dagger, you were required to cross your right hand to your left side. When you extended your right hand and it was dagger-less, this was a gesture of peace and fraternity.
Fast forward to World War II — to the Holocaust.
The Warsaw Ghetto uprising took place during Passover.
The fighters were a ragtag group with no chance of defeating the Germans.
Entire countries fell to the Germans overnight or in just days.
These fighters knew that they were rising up against Nazism to protect a principle, not because they expected to emerge victorious. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising took place on Passover because it was the festival of freedom. Some of their weapons were the real thing, many were makeshift.
When the young, idealistic, rebel fighters took their weapons, they shook hands with their commander. They said, "l’Chaim," which means "to life."
And then they said, "l’Mavet," ("to death").
They shook hands, while being fully aware of what awaited them, they declared, "to life and to death."
COVID-19 is killing many of us. Literally. Yet, our goal is to come out of this alive.
And if, in order to do that, we must change certain of our behaviors and alter some of our norms — so be it.
From now on, when I wave to someone from a distance, I’m showing more respect for that person and more caring for that person than when we stood face-to-face and I pumped their hand. And although they can’t see it, behind my mask I am giving them a great big smile.
For confirmation, look at my eyes. Look for the twinkle.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reports — Click Here Now.
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