It was the time in the service when everyone shakes hands, offers peace, I like that part, I get to say hello to the monks, the ones I know best I give a warm hug, a little break in the service, everyone smiles and loosens up a little.

I turned to the man standing next to me. I'd figured out it was his first time there by the way he stumbled a little through the liturgy. I offered him my hand and he gave me a polite handshake.

I turned to the row behind. There was a slender young man standing there, I'd never seen him before either. He was sitting among the monks. I reached out a hand to him.

He didn't take it.

He didn't take it, he looked at me for a brief moment and then placed his hands together, as if he were about to say namaste, which we don't say at the monastery. At least we don't say it when we are supposed to shake hands. I looked quickly around me and noticed everyone was placing their hands together.

Now there had been a little sign about not dipping bread into wine or some such thing in the narthex, but really, who dips their bread into the wine at the monastery? And it's true I hadn't appeared at Sunday services for a few weeks, but obviously there had been an announcement made that I'd never heard about. No more handshakes. And who knows what else.

He didn't take my hand, but for me it was if he had slapped me in the face. I spent the remainder of the service raging inside. He'd seemed like an innocent enough fellow, he was sitting among the monks, in fact it turned out he was going to be staying with them in the monastery for a year, but he didn't take my hand and I was angry. More angry than makes any sense.

Until I started to think about it. Shaking hands has been so socialized into me, so thoroughly inculcated in me, that I knew viscerally that I had been insulted. I'd been taught the rules, and you only reject a handshake as the most extreme social gesture. Athletes are forced to shake hands after grueling competition. The candidates shake hands after their ugly debates. And if the leader of the Israelis shakes the hand of the leader of the Palestinians, it is very big news indeed.

It got me thinking. Shaking hands is touching and touching is a sensitive issue in our world. Gay men touch each other. I've found that out. They touch each other more than straight men do, and I don't mean in the bedroom, but in a restaurant, on the street, even in church. They give each other hugs. And kisses on the cheek. They will sometimes touch another man's elbow to indicate they know what you are talking about. And I've grown to appreciate that kind of touching. There's liberation in it. And I'm appreciating liberation these days.

Now I realize the monastery means well and I know that slender young man meant well. I understand and appreciate the public heath concerns they are attempting to address. But it's kind of peculiar: people are shaking my hand at work and they are shaking my hand in restaurants, so why aren't they shaking my hand at church?

He didn't take my hand, but I'm getting over it. I had to. But when the gay men stop giving me kisses on the cheek, then I am really going to start worrying.

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