The Welcoming Hand
October 5, 2020
Sunny and cool
It was evening. The cool, moist air of twilight was drifting across Lakeshore Avenue from San Francisco Bay, lit by a softly glowing setting sun. I was out for my evening walk, trundling downhill with my 4-wheeled rollator toward the intersection with Lakeshore where I could cross to a block- long parklet. There, three clumps of enormous redwoods had been allowed to stand.
I had just crossed the street when I was startled by someone running past me. I jumped and moved to the side so that the runner could pass, but he did not pass. Instead he stopped and turned around to face me. “I’m sorry I startled you,” he said. “Is it alright if I walk with you a way? I thought we might shake hands.” I was looking at a young man, probably in his forties, with a frank, open face, an engaging smile, kind eyes, blond hair a bit disheveled, physically fit and harmoniously dressed. There was nothing not to like about this person. His hands were in his pockets, so shaking hands was not an immediate concern. I said, “No, I don’t mind.”
“Do you do any kind of a practice while you are walking?” was the first thing he asked as we were walking along. I thought this encounter was unusual to begin with and now I knew it was unusual. “Yes,” and I described the micro-cosmic orbit, a deep-breathing practice I had learned from chi gong. He seemed to know what it was so I asked him if he did martial arts. “I used to”, he said, “but now I just do yoga and meditation.” He pronounced “meditation” as if he were savoring chocolate, the most delicious in the world.
Now I was really curious about him. “Do you belong to a sangha?” “What’s that?” was his reply. I explained that a sangha is a group of people who meet together for meditations. No, he did not belong to any group. “Do you think I should?”
He looked at me questioningly as if I were his mother and he was asking for advice.
I don’t know where the words came from. “You don’t need it,” I said. “You are out there doing the work and you don’t need it.”
We had come to the end of the block and I explained that I needed to go back up the hill and go home. He seemed disappointed. “Let’s shake hands, anyway,” and he brought his right hand out of his pocket and enveloped my right hand in a grip so warm, so soft, so loving, and in a way, so comforting, that it was more than a handshake. It was a transmission from the hand of a healer.
Later, I realized that he knew the power he had in his hands. He had said at the outset that he thought we might shake hands even though these days nobody is shaking hands.
His name is Chris. I may forget his name or what he looks like, but I will never forget the gift of that handshake.
What I am reading: “The Wild Edge of Sorrow – Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief” by Francis Weller, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA 2015. A very tender, compassionate work on a topic that is often avoided today. How ritual and community can aid healing from loss.