A Depiction Of The Post-Pandemic: Handshakes
I’ve long considered the handshake—that tactile exchange of cordiality, understanding, salutation, and good-will, that fleshy trade of influence, business, subtlety, and tact—to be not only a barbarous, but an unhygienic display. It’s uncivilized and it’s unclean. It’s atavistic and it’s dirty, antiquated and foul. On the whole, if I might be so blunt, it’s ugly and it’s old, much more the former than the latter, but still as undeserving as ever of its continued employment—especially during this, a pandemic-stricken age.
Granted, this is an opinion by which, especially when considering the natural ease of my sociability and the warmth of my embrace, you might be taken aback. A young, gregarious fellow such as me, you might think, shouldn’t be cringing at the thought of pressing another man or woman’s hand, around which my own, in return, is so lovably to be encompassed. I seem, at least from a distance, to be the kind of chap to whom this level of misanthropy and unease would be inimical. I assure you, it’s not. You might even think me a hypocrite of the worst kind, being that I participate in this allegedly “repugnant” act of the grasping of hands many hundreds of times every single day. That I may be. I’ll not refute the charge.
Nevertheless, the fact remains: the handshake as we know it is a barbarous and unhygienic display. Disagree if you will, convince me if you might, this is an opinion of which I’ve long been persuaded and now, more than ever, it’s become one upon which I feel the urgent need to expatiate.
The handshake is, regardless of your prior attachment to it, an admittedly strange and perverse act. It isn’t at all to be recommended in the delicate age of our society, a courtesy to be mimicked and transferred from one epoch to the next. It’s an act to which modern man, despite his modernity, has become oddly habituated, and one of whose supposed value and utility he ought to be disabused. A thorough consideration of its worth is a scrutiny to which it’s been, despite our culture’s emphasis on cleanliness, wholly unsusceptible, and I can’t figure out the reason why. We must examine the handshake for what it is and, as the lone advocate of its alternative, I’m happy to begin that discussion. Sadly, it seems a discussion to which, as this alien disease has made apparent to us, we’re all arriving just a bit too late.
For one, as I said, the handshake is barbarous. It hasn’t the mark of urbanity and refinement, the echoes of respectability and high class of which we, as modern, Westernized humans, feel ourselves uniquely possessed. It is of elder origins, and not all that is old is good.
Certainly, very few of those things are worth the labors of which their preservation is so relentlessly demanding. Those signs of advancement and progress, those signs with which we flatter and associate our modern selves, are unknown to the old, to the low, to the sordid act that is the handshake.
Here we are, touching and squeezing the damp underbelly of our fellow’s moisture-bathed palm. We feel, as its grasp returns our own, the fleshy corrugations and the various turns in which its cold surface is enfolded. We clasp, one concavity to the next, a perspiring pit of slime and filth, a depth of the epidermis out of which, with any luck, we’d do well with alacrity to climb. We feel, all too intimately, the return of his feebleness or his strength, the perception of his diffidence or stolidity, of his hesitation or resolve, of a tremulous despair or an insuperable pinch of which we’ll be acutely, often painfully conscious. From a limp-wrist to a Titan’s touch, there is no nuance, no modulation. We’d do better to read such messages in the eyes, subtler organs of which these truths are far more illuminative.
The hands, on the other hand, are quite vulgar and rather dim. Such is the result of being engaged more often in action, than in reflection, in deed than in thought. The hands manipulate, seldom cogitate, and we must judge them on the basis of their supreme unwisdom. They’re the appendages at whose tips the mind’s whims are carried out, but they have no thoughts of their own. Surely we can extend to our fellow man a part of the body more brilliant than this.
As much as the handshake is barbarous, it’s also unclean. I could hardly emerge from the foregoing paragraph without making mention of this obvious and, as it turns out, ominous fact. This goes almost without my having said so, but it does bear repeating. I needn’t go so far as to frighten you by quantifying the number of transmissible germs, to which the filthy handshake is so eagerly conducive. The figure, exceeding three thousand various bacteria of which a century and a half of species is productive, is no sooner comprehended as it is, for lack of a better word, felt.
The secularist and the religious zealot, on this point, will surely agree. The handshake hasn’t the cleanliness of the divinity by which we were made, the immaculate, spotless idea out of whose lofty image our own was once forged. Can we not honor him and ourselves in any better way than to squeeze and sully each other’s clammy, restive, and germ-laden hands? Can we not choose for our salutation a perhaps more sterile approach, one that sanctifies not only us, but the maker out of whose head, much like the dauntless, Parthenos Athena, unravished and completely clean, we once so brilliantly sprung? For him, for us, for her, we must do better.
The handshake as we know it is a pestiferous conduit of every communicable disease. It’s a route along which a bevy of infinitesimal and animated plagues eagerly join to dance and glide. To them, there could be nothing so easy, no home more inviting to their unruly presence, than the outstretched and feeling hand. It’s an avenue from which, from the base of the palm, to the tip of the finger, to the unkempt beds of nails around which all types of naughty excrescences grow, neither bacterial nor viral passenger is barred. All are welcome on this uncleanly path. All are encouraged with bon voyage! To amble about in the pursuit of their devilish ends.
As such, I’d like very much to see the handshake abolished and, if at all possible, replaced. It must be and, with the few encouragements by which this current pandemic has been attended, I think it soon shall be. The reasons are but too clear. It is, as I said, an insalubrious and a barbarous display, and we, last I checked, are a polished and a civilized people. It is what we are not. This disharmony simply can’t be sustained, and the handshake must go.
More than a display merely, a show of which, surely countless times each day, we all mindlessly partake, the handshake is, so far as I can tell, an artifact of our ancient affability—an affability for whose forwardness and zest we’re currently being punished. This sentiment is, at its best, a fossil of our friendliness, a gold piece lodged in the iron-rusted shaft of our communal mine, a deeply-set but distinctively-hewn stone, by whose extraction we’ve come to profit. It’s a gem, indeed, a glimmering ruby in the warm stratum of a life to which solitude, always tarnishing yet now said to be absolutely vital in the face of a pandemic, is entirely averse. It is at the very center of our sympathy, while encompassing the girth of our regard for all humankind. It strikes at the core of our immemorial bonhomie, the fellow-feeling by which our society was once and is ever again raised and refreshed.
The noble but fading handshake, that object of my simultaneous bewilderment and scorn, is an old vestige of our too-palpable past. And I do mean, literally, too palpable in its feeling ways. It’s a crude means not only of communication, but of transaction beyond which, for the better health and future promise of our ailing species, we’d do well immediately to evolve.
Like the idle appendix from which, despite its quite remarkable persistence at the periphery of the gut, our intestinal exertions derive but little profit, or the coccyx of the lower spine into which, with a curious tapering and concave twist, our previously arboreal tails are now condensed and fused, the handshake is an old part of us with which we can now safely dispense. We need it not, but that doesn’t mean it should be swept away from the nostalgic peculiarities of our memory. We can study it still in our museums and in our houses of anthropology. We can still refer to it in the footnotes of our thick and dusty books. We can view it as a curiosity to which our forebears were strangely habituated, one to which they failed to find an acceptable replacement in the months and years of their own good time. We can gaze upon reenactments of it as though it were a distant and an antiquated act—not unlike the leaping of the bulls on the island of Crete, or the rain dance of the Aztec and the Maya.
That said, there must be a gesture by which, in its newfound absence, the handshake of old, that to which we’ve been so obdurately committed, is to be replaced. My suggestion is but a subtle variation, one with whose adoption we’ll encounter not even the slightest difficulty. It’s a change of which, without even a bit of practice, we’ll all be happily capable. It’s but a slight adjustment to the posture in which we’ve held ourselves for far too long a time.
My proposal is none other than the “forearm” handshake—that grasping and shaking not of the hands, but of the wrists. More accurately, I suppose, it really shouldn’t be called a “handshake” at all, at least not insofar as that abused exchange beyond which, as I’ve convinced you, we really ought to move, is to be understood. The “arm-shake”, if you will, is a far nobler and more sophisticated display of which, in very short order, I think we’ll all become quite fond. You’ll soon witness a society to whom it’s become, like the breathing of one’s air behind the fabric of a mask, agreeably natural. You need only try it, feel it, receive it, and you’ll surely agree.
One grasps not the hand, but the wrist—the lower, tapering part of the forearm from which, in their aspirational reach toward the external and sensible world, our vital and dexterous tendons and veins join to emerge. The flesh of the lower forearm, a region unencumbered by the stigmata of our fallen prophets, the sweat of our nervous associates, or the adhesion of the germs to which both were invariably susceptible, is the area toward which all our future greetings will be directed. It’s a tract of prime anatomical real state—a region under-utilized up until this point in time. It’s an area pliant yet resilient, tapered yet tough, accommodating of the effeminacy or the masculinity of every incoming grip with which it might come into contact.
The lower forearm leading into the wrist is, in every way, a beautiful juncture of which we make insufficient use—made all the more beautiful and useful in that it plays so negligible a role in the transmission of disease. Consider, if you will, the filth by which your hands—despite your relentless lathering and scrubbing—are coated. As stated, it’s an inconceivable amount—greater in number than the years since the fall of Troy. The quantity beggars description. So too does it tempt infection, yet I, for one, would prefer a mind beclouded to a body ravaged. Truly, it might be said that this quantity is no real fault of the hand; it’s but the innocent appendage upon which the body’s messiest of missions are placed. Still, it carries these germs nevertheless, a fact for which it must be blamed.
This, on its own, isn’t so much a trouble. The problem is the surface (though more often, the orifice) on which the itinerant and inconstant hand subsequently lands. As if magnetically attracted to the sovereign source by which it’s controlled, the hand inevitably reaches for the head and the face. Seldom obstructed, it finds its way to the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth—whose openings are as doorways of safe and well-trodden caves. This, in a word, is how disease is transmitted. A handshake is received, the contents of which are then, for lack of a better word, consumed. If not consumed, then absorbed, though almost always unwittingly so by the holes by which the face is dotted.
The arm-shake offers no such risk. The infrequency with which the forearm makes contact with the face is hardly worthy of remark. Aside from its use in the removal of sweat from an over-heated brow, or the placement of it on a head in preparation of a swoon, can you think of the forearm daring to penetrate the holes of your face? It not only wouldn’t, it positively couldn’t. It knows much better than to sully that sovereign land. So while it might receive the germs by which your fellow’s hand was occupied, it hasn’t the ability to transport them. And if the fear is not their eventual movement to your face, but their temporary residence atop your wrist’s skin, consider the fact that most of us are in the habit of wearing long-sleeves throughout most days of the year. Your jacket’s fabric, between whose stitches a bacterium finds nothing genial to life, simply won’t be a vector about which to be concerned.
The forearm shake, you see, is in every way to be preferred. Let us, as we overcome this disease, readily adopt its use. Let us embrace it with the enthusiasm of which, for the past month, we’ve been so unnaturally starved. Let it re-awaken the warmth by which our sociability was once colored, let it grip us and guide us into the delicacies of the post-pandemic age. Hand in wrist, wrist in hand, there’s nowhere we can’t go.