At a country harvest festival last night in north Tipperary, it was noticeable: handshakes are becoming gentler. Ministry in country parishes back in the ‘80s would have been 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.
Discussing news of another tragic death with a colleague, there was an awareness that communication has become a serious issue; there have never been so many channels open, yet the ability to communicate seems to be fading.
It’s not something new. Thirty years ago it was being expressed in the pop songs; maybe as kids singing along, we knew what was being said in the songs, but we never had words to say what we meant. Madness were saying something important in their lyrics; the pain they evoked was real, but to whom would you turn to say that you felt like the words from a Madness song?
My girl’s mad at me
Been on the telephone for an hour
We hardly said a word
I tried and tried but I could not be heard
Why can’t I explain?
Why do I feel this pain?
‘Cause everything I say
She doesn’t understand
She doesn’t realise
She takes it all the wrong way.
The Squeeze song ‘Up the Junction’ captures a complete failure to be able to express what is really going on inside the narrator’s mind. The girlfriend and baby have left after he has become a heavy drinker and he stands alone:
Alone here in the kitchen
I feel there’s something missing
I’d beg for some forgiveness
But begging’s not my business
And she won’t write a letter
Although I always tell her
And so it’s my assumption
I’m really up the junction.
Somehow, we need to find some words to speak.
Handshakes are becoming gentler – great stuff.
Perhaps we need to factor the handshake strength into UN indices of happiness.
It would probably have more meaning than some indices – like the alleged per capita wealth at the time of the boom.