Ministry in country parishes was demanding for anyone with a tendency to arthritis. The bonecrushing handshakes from farmers with hands the size of bunches of bananas were part of the routine of Sunday mornings.
The handshake always conveyed a great deal. Their mood, their appreciation of the sermon, their state of health, could be conveyed in a brief clasp.
The handshake was also a means of conveying emotion for men of few words. At neighbour’s funerals they would take the hand of the bereaved into their two hands as they filed past the grave. The words ‘sorry for your trouble’ were almost incidental to the condolences expressed in that moment of touch.
Physical contact is becoming a thing of the past; many people going out of the church door now neither look for nor offer a handshake. Perhaps we are becoming less tactile people.
The warmth that can be conveyed in brief contact was brought home to me at the checkout in Tesco. Gathering my provisions together into my bag at the self- service till, an arm reach around my shoulder and gave me a brief hug.
I turned in surprise to see James, the man who gathers the baskets and generally tidies things up. He smiled. James is a man of few words and laughs at my efforts to be humorous. He is always bright and cheerful as he goes about his mundane tasks.
It was a moment that brightened the day; that recalled the big quiet farmers with their sandpaper skin and vice like grip. James has Downs Syndrome, perhaps being tactile helps him articulate the thoughts he cannot express, perhaps it is simply that he has the innocence of a bygone age, before the dark shadow of the evil of abuse made us wary of all contact.