How we greet people is very important and often shows what we think of the person we are meeting.
One thing I’ve noticed here in Honduras is that in public men usually shake hands with other men, but not often with women or children. There is also some deference to those with power, money, or influence.
So I’ve taken up the custom of shaking hands with everyone – men, women, and children. I want them to know that I value them, even if I can’t remember their names.
Sometimes this gets a little tricky. The young mechanic with greasy hands or the worker with dirty hands are often reluctant to shake hands, apologizing for their dirty hands.
I reply that the only dirty hands are the hands of the corrupt and proceed to try to shake hands. They sometimes offer me their arms instead of their hands.
I had forgotten where this response came from until this morning when I picked up Dom Helder Câmara: Essential Writings. There are two quotes that describe a similar experience.
I think about the man I saw working in the street, emptying dustbins. I had caught his eye. He didn’t dare offer me his hand. I virtually had to force him: “Work isn’t what soils our hands, friend. No hand was ever soiled by work. Self-centeredness is that soils them.” (p. 121)
I know a priest who likes to shake hands with the trash collectors when they are loading the refuse onto the truck. They try to clean their hands on their clothes. The priest, rightly, says: “No work stains human hands. What makes hands dirty is stealing, or greed, or the blood of our neighbors!” (p. 143)
Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the death of this Brazilian bishop, friend of the poor, apostle of nonviolent liberation.
Dom Helder identified with the poor, recognizing their dignity. He also identified with the Lord Jesus who became flesh as a poor man.
He would get up at 2 am each morning to pray and he would open his own door when someone knocked.
His simplicity, his willingness to touch the hands of the poor, inspires me to be even more committed to prayer and to solidarity with the poor.
Hands joined in prayer should be hands that embrace the poor.