This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.
Okay, I realize there have already been a few MIE posts about this.
But when Donald Trump posted a meme of himself fiddling while Rome burns, I could not refrain from comment.
Not only were Trump’s words and image in bad taste, but his comment appeared to mocking the efforts by individual state governors and public health workers to protect their citizens from the coronavirus (since there is no serious federal response from the US government).
Fortunately, scientists are sharing wisdom about a technique called social distancing. May I expound?
The strategy of social distancing is that with some behavior changes, we will undoubtedly slow the epidemic and save thousands of lives. What is social distancing, you ask?
This doesn’t mean snubbing your neighbor at the potluck or ignoring text messages. It doesn’t mean staying in your house alone. It does involve avoiding large group gatherings like conventions or rallies. These are spots where you could encounter virus droplets which you then might pass to others. The reality of social distancing is quite hard, if you’ve booked a space and contracted vendors. Less than a week before is onset, the organizers of the Tucson Book Festival cancelled their event, which draws thousands, for the public good. It’s also the reason that colleges are doing by telling their students who are going off on spring break to self quarantine for two weeks before returning to the classroom. The kids might think it’s an endless party, but it gives a bit of space to letting them get through their potential illnesses and/or contamination potential.
In my daily life, the first directive of social distancing is to stop shaking hands and hugging.
This got me thinking about the basics of superficial human touch—touch toward colleges, strangers and friends that is considered standard etiquette to initiate or receive.
When I lived in Japan, handshaking was only done at the insistence of zealous foreigners. Bowing was so much easier; self contained and respectful. It’s also the preferred greeting in Korea, but not in China, where people nod, applaud, or more recently, shake hands.
South Asians also offer hospitality without touching. Adaab, meaning “respect,” is a secular verbal salutation between Hindus and Muslims that includes raising one’s right hand towards one’s own face with the palm inward, and a slight bow. The movement is elegant and humble.
Buddhists and Hindus share an iconic gesture called the Anjali Mudra with hands pressed together before the chest. You can raise the hands slightly toward the face to show extra respect. Hindus might add the utterance, “Namaste,” which means “I salute you” and can mean both hello and goodbye. In the west, folded hands looks like a prayer. That’s OK. We need all the prayers we can get.
While recently in India, I found myself making the Anjali Mudra toward people I was meeting, especially elders. Before, I’d felt this movement was too foreign for the United States, but my feelings are changing. I yearn to offer people a sign that I am greeting them with affection, without abandoning my commitment to social distancing.
Last Sunday I walked to our Quaker Meeting—to the early worship hour, which I knew would have less than 20 worshippers. I pushed open the heavy wooden door to the building and was greeted with the Anjali Mudra by one of the ushers, a young man who is of European-American descent. I was stunned—but recalled that I’d received this greeting from another American too, within the last few months. And at the end of meeting, we did not shake hands—but we smiled.
That’s not the end of the story, though.
Another hand movement is gaining traction. It’s the split hand Vulcan greeting created by actor Leonard Nimoy for Star Trek. Mr. Nimoy told The Forward that, in his childhood, he was inspired by the powerful gesture of blessing performed by a rabbi toward his congregation. It stayed with him all the way to outer space. And George Takei, the brilliant actor who played Sulu, has commented this is the obvious greeting for our crisis.
So why not bring it back to earth?