Eight months ago, I wrote, “Will handshakes survive the coronavirus pandemic?” (Hartford Courant, April 17, 2020.) In that short opinion piece, I harkened back to the day when I taught my two daughters the basics of shaking hands. In the end, I questioned whether that ritual would survive the virus. Ultimately, I chose to side with hope, hope that I would again see people shaking hands, especially my daughters.
Oh, how that question sounds naïve today! I mean, if I knew then what I know now, I would have written something like, “Will the Electoral College survive the coronavirus pandemic?” or “Will Thanksgiving survive the coronavirus pandemic?”
Back in April when I wrote about the simple act of shaking hands, a custom that connects us to others, we did not yet know how cynical we would become. In that early stage of the virus, we were all a bit innocent, I guess. But our callowness was short lived. Soon, we entered a dark period in our nation’s history, never needing more, ironically and symbolically, the connection that a handshake provides.
But, as we know, the travails of the past nine months caused us to splinter rather than to coalesce. As millions of Americans became infected, and thousands lost their lives, and as we punched our way through an angry election cycle, scores of Americans were left struggling and our divides deepened. Masks vs. no-masks, lock downs vs. open-for-business, stimulus vs. austerity, and issues of inequality pushed us to the brink. “Perilous” best described our national mood.
But, somehow, today, after a long ordeal, we see a faint light coming over the horizon.
Even as we face another surge, a spike in hospitalizations, and a commensurate increase in the death rate, we have found a way to cling to hope, haven’t we? Even as people debate what it means to be an American, even as sides remain entrenched, we continue to exercise, as a group, that quintessential quality of Americanism: hope.
And this applies to people from all sides and all persuasions. Some find hope in the optimism of a new government, in the raging stock market, in a push to equality, in faith, and now, in a shot administered once, and then again, 21 days later.
Now, I am not saying that we are out of the woods, or that our country is not in need of healing, or that the handshake is on the verge of a come-back. But if we all share in the concept of hope, that’s a start, isn’t it?
The source of my hope might be different from yours, and the object of your hope might be different from your co-worker’s, and so on. But at the center it is the same thing, right?
As we turn the corner on 2020, we can be comforted by the words of Nelson Mandela, who suffered the depths of despair, when he wrote that we “as human beings have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” If hope was good enough for Mr. Mandela, I suggest it is good enough for you and me. Let’s figure out the details later. I say we shake on it.
Scott Fanning lives in Avon.