Hand Greeting Disability

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Once upon a time, there was one way to greet another person with your hands.  It was called the hand shake.  You reached out together, thumbs on top, clasp hands, and shook 2-4 times.  Simple.  There are variations of course: palm vertical, better, palm up, hand in hand, lingering, the push off, the pull in, the superior, the lesser, the finger cruncher, the bone cruncher, the palm pincher, the twister, and the very unpleasant dead fish.

I know that stuff like…well…the back of my hand.  Come at me with any one of these and I’ll pick it right up.  But that’s where my abilities end.  If it were just a classic high five or low five once in awhile, I could manage just fine.  What about the bro hand shake?  What about all the weird bro hand jive stuff?  Fist bumps?  Fist bops?  I’m afraid it’s all too much for me.

broshakeThe fact that there are dozens of options throws me off.  I’m leaving my current job, so I got a goodbye handshake from a man.  He came in with the thumb extended high.  Hand-shake?  Or bro shake?  I went bro, and he went standard handshake and so I just ended up grab his thumb solo.  Try that out sometime and feel how awkward is.  And it’s not the only time I’ve done it this month.

A good friend of mine, a very COOL good friend of mine ran into me at a farmer’s market.  He lifted his hand up over his head with the palm down, wrist and fingers limp.  I know that that is a huge low five now because my little brother explained it to me, but what I did must have been the most awkward, botched, hand greeting in history.  If someone had gotten it on the phone, it would have gone viral.  We’re both pretty tall, and he’s taller than me.  He went up high with his left hand (right facing me).  I panicked.  The best I could figure was that this was going to be a mirror-facing high five of some sort.  So as I walked his way I put my right hand up high for the five but his left hand didn’t flatten out and so I clasped it.  But that’s not all.  I then used my left hand to bring him in for a weird sort of hug, but because we were mirrored hands up and arms clasping each other our cheeks kind of came together noses toward right each other.  It must have looked like the ugliest two-man tango in history.

And this goes for hugs as well.  I was at a party with a bunch of Bengali men, and we got a little tipsy and as a result we bonded.  We made pledges of lifetime allegiance to each other.  We would be uncles to our future children.  We would be at the weddings.  At the end of the night, one guy came up to me as we were leaving and said. “David, we are cousins now.  That’s how we do it in Bangladesh.”  Then he came at me with a hug, arms wide open.  Now, I’m a real hugger, none of that macho bullshit.  You come for a hug, I’m going to squeeze you for at least four seconds, and so that’s what I tried to give him.  But he stepped back,  and held a wait-and-watch index finger up in front of me.

“We hug like this.  Hug.  Two hard pats on the back.  And step away.  Try.”

Yeah, well I don’t know if this is a Bengali thing or not, but that’s the way manly men hug.  I’m used to it now.  But what happens when it starts with a handshake which ends in a hug?  Well, you’re supposed to do the hard slap or the shoulder bump and break away.  Nope.  Not me.  I do the hand clasp and the tight hug with hands smashed between bellies at least 60% of the time.

I don’t know exactly how this happened to me.  I didn’t have a lot of male friends, for one.  And the ones I had were really sensitive musician types.  But I fear that it is too late for me. Without significant remedial training, I will be strictly a hand shake guy.  If I see a greeting coming on, I set the agenda first.  I initiate a handshake before you have time to do any crazy shit.

The Other Side of Town

WARNING: This piece quotes a racial slur

barrington_hall_northIf you’ve read my blog much at all, you know that I lived my early childhood in a small town in Arkansas.  I don’t really know much about the history of the town.  I know that it was named after a a prominent oak tree.  I know that a good portion of the town is black.  I know that there were plantations worked by slaves there which later gave way to tenant farms.

But I didn’t know much about that as a kid.  I knew that there were a couple  of large antebellum mansions which I enjoyed exploring because I knew the families that lived there.  And I knew that all of my black friends lived in another neighborhood.  But I didn’t think much of it until one summer day.

Every summer, the Yankee grandson of my twin’s first grade teacher visited town for awhile.  He talked differently.  He played a game called soccer.  He used the word “sucks”  a lot, although I thought he was saying “socks” because of his accent.  My brother and I really liked playing with that kid.  We all lived near the park, so we played there often.  And we spent a lot of time playing “two below”, which was the town’s word for touch football, in his grandmother’s yard.  The only fight I ever had with my twin was on that lawn when we had a rough encounter playing two below.

But every kid’s favorite activity in town was bikes.  It was at the height of the BMX racing craze and we all envisioned ourselves as racers and stunt riders.  It was a different time.  We could ride anywhere, even as 7 or 8-year-olds.  I can’t imagine my young nephew riding his bike all over town without supervision.  Child services might take interest.  But we rode from border to border of that town.

One day, the three of us were about to head east on our bikes, and the old school teacher, his grandmother, called after us.  She gave a warning which didn’t really make sense to me at first.  But as it sunk in, I realized that there was more to this town than I had realized.

She called, “You boys stay away from Nigger Town!  You understand me?”

Surely I’d heard the n-word before.  Perhaps someone had used the old rhyme Eenie Meanie Minie Moe with the original rhyme “Catch a n-word by the toe.”  But I never thought anything of it at the time.  I was taught that “tiger by the toe” was the better way of saying it.  I just didn’t know why. But this was the first time I’d ever really heard the n-word.     I know now that what I felt was that #blacklivesmatter.  Each of those precious little boys and girls should have mattered to that teacher;  mattered enough for her grandson to ride his bike through their neighborhood.

I don’t remember if we obeyed her command, but I do know that every time after that when I visited one of my best friends in the all-black neighborhood I wondered.  I wondered why I shouldn’t be there.  I wondered what my brother’s teacher, who taught black kids, who led the 23rd Psalm with them, could be so afraid of.  I felt betrayed in a way.  She had taken something away from me.  I didn’t fully understand it, but I felt insulted on my friends’ behalf.  It didn’t deter me, though.  I always felt welcome in the other side of town.

I sensed no difference between the white kids and the black kids in my school.  I never knew of a white kid refusing to hang out with a black kid because of his skin.  Maybe I was sheltered.  Maybe my friends already knew to stay out of N-word Town.  Maybe they already had been taught to call black people that name.  I’m sure there were some, but I still like to think (or I like to hope) that there is something special about that southern antebellum town;  that it is a town which has since left it’s racist legacy behind when old school teachers passed away.  If it hasn’t, then I pray with all of my heart that it one day will.

 

Stay Home, Just in Case

BLACK LIVES MATTERYesterday was the #BlackLivesMatter protest in Oklahoma City.  My daughter, who has a flame for social justice, wanted to attend.  My wife agreed, but only if she could join her.  Then my father in law said they could go only if he could join them.  The concern was that it was just that dangerous.  Together, three generations of Wilsons would march for the cause of justice.  I was proud.  My son was away on a church mission trip in Dallas, so he wouldn’t be joining them.  So my wife said to me, “You need to stay home, just in case.  Our son needs a father.”

My wife was dead serious.

She said it in a matter of fact way.  Very nearly cheerfully.  But she said it without a hint of irony.  I’m in a place in my life where I am in complete trust of God.  He has not steered me wrong.  Things have turned out for the best in every possible way.  But who am I to determine what the best is?  My wife and daughter were willing to die for a cause they believe deeply in and it was serious enough that they needed me to stay home just in case.

How many chances does a person have to be willing to die for a cause?  And yet it was a real possibility.  The climate on the #blacklivesmatter / #bluelivesmatter front is stormy with a chance of catastrophe.

Me?  Well I fixed some popcorn and watched my favorite too-hot-to-go-out movie,  Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”, and enjoyed a rare moment of solitude.  I chose not to worry about it.  There was peace on my heart that day.  I knew that they were in God’s hands and so was I.

They returned in their overheated black clothes with sunburn on their necks and love on their faces.  I hugged them both, and in gratitude, I washed the dishes. Yeah, it was my chore to begin with, but that doesn’t mean I was gonna do it. But I did it knowing that I had played my part by staying home…

just in case.

 

Leaning into the Fabric

thread-count-600x399I don’t always know what I will write when I begin.  I love observing people, but making a story about people you know who might read it isn’t always wise.  And there are other things happening in my life both good and complicated that I just can’t talk about, yet, and so I’m left to wonder what can I write about today?

I’m tired of forming opinions about presidential politics or fact checking Facebook friends or defending my candidate.  I think people have pretty much made up their minds except for the Bernie or Die folks.  But they’ll come around, and so will the Republicans who have vowed never to vote for Trump.  All Democrats will vote for Hillary, and all Republicans will vote for Trump.  The Independents will decide the next president.

But I’m tired of that.  We live in a nation of rich culture and endless activity.  We’re reading books, watching television and movies, rooting for sports teams, going to church, protesting corporate greed, knitting scarves for winter,  learning music, cooking our grandmother’s pound cake, and on to infinity.  There is so much more to this country than our politics.  So much more to agree on.  So much more to disagree on.  Like do you put beans in your chili.  Texans say chili is not chili if you put beans in it.  Can we are argue about that for a change?

I’ve heard our great society described as a fabric.  In other words, it is many different threads which make up a single thing…a single function.  We often feel that our lives do not matter, but think about that fabric.  Without your thread bound to all of the others, there is a flaw, a weakness.  Let’s dig deeper than our differences and alliances.  The more we are knit together, the stronger our society, our country, becomes, and the more we care for each other.

I have this image of billions of people expending and restoring their energies right now.  It’s a process we must be tethered to in order to live.  It exists between people as well; giving and taking and working together.  We may think we are alone, but there is always someone or something connected with us, engaging us, keeping us from fading into oblivion.  And so this fabric or web is lit with living energy.  It’s far greater than our single thread.  It’s all there for us.  It is a greater consciousness which we can weave our way through.  This has either everything to do with God or nothing to do with God, depending on how you see it; how you envision the great weaving forcing binding us and all life together.

And so, as our country becomes more and more divided over things that may not even affect our daily living, I ask the Great Weaver to inspire us to become aware of our connections to each other which are far greater than our beliefs about each other so that we may create something even greater than fabric; for fabric is only useful when it is sewn for a purpose.  I believe that purpose is love.  I believe that something greater than the cloth itself has a far grander idea of what we may become…together.

 

 

Among My People

shutterstock-programmingAt my current job, I’m surrounded by accountants and managers and business people.  I’m one of only two programmers in my division and he’s an Access programmer, which I refuse  label myself as.  I didn’t really know how much I missed being around a team of developers until today.

My supervisor, a Cobol programmer from a neighboring division, and I trekked over to another building to have a meeting with a programmer for a system we are having to interface with.  When I walked in, I saw all the signs of a coder cave.  We made our way to a dimly lit room with 10 workstations scattered around, many  had as much as four monitors, one guy had a stand up desk, and 5 young hipster geeks were rat-tat-tatting away on their keyboards.  I saw Ubuntu Linux operating systems,  Intelli-J integrated development environments, and command line terminals with lines of output scrolling up in stops and starts.  All the signs of programmers were present.  I was among my people.

I wanted to establish myself as one of them in some way.  “Hey, you running Ubuntu?”  “What do you think about Intelli-J?  How does it compare to Netbeans or Eclipse?”  But I didn’t.  That’s not what I was there for.  And does anybody really like that guy?  The guy who wants to demonstrate that he knows.  Oh, I know, but what would be the point?

Perhaps I might get moved over there if they knew I was legit.  They seem to be understaffed.  But that’s not in my plan.  That place is a mess.  Management won’t let them use any modern tools for managing their code.  That’s a disaster waiting to happen.  Everybody at the center hates these guys, and it’s not their fault.  They’re trying to stand up a massive system with poor management and too few developers.  I don’t need that.

I’m just now realizing that I’ve worked in the same proximity as 4 or more developers my whole career; people I can chat tech stuff with; people I can help or be helped by.  A development team, in other words.

I don’t plan to be in this position for long.  It’s hurting my career working with this technology and with so little work to do.  I need to get back into the flow of professional programming.  I’ve asked my company to move me, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.  I’ve told them that I cannot stay in the position, as grateful as I am to have it.

In my last gig, I was working in a company with around a hundred programmers.  I was on a team with 5 programmers, 2 business analysts, a tester, and a project manager.  It is a hard-core software company.  And cool.  Ping pong room, video game area, foosball, no cube farm, huge windows looking out at the OU campus  We wore jeans.  Every Friday was super hero t-shirt day on my team.  I made good friends..  There were managers, business reps, and support staff, but mostly it was people like me, coding until our fingers hurt.  It was a tough job.  The system was enormous and complex.  The coding standards were high.  And the hours were tough.  In the end, I decided that it wasn’t for me.  But I miss the atmosphere.

Coders are different people.  They’re not like business people.  They don’t dress the same, act the same, play the same, work the same, communicate the same, or think the same.   They are creative, quick-minded, collaborative, tech-forward, and geeky.  Geeky is not what it used to be. Yes, there are still those kinds of geeks that dress without consideration for appearance, don’t know how to communicate (especially to girls), and are generally awkward, but then there’s the kind that are heavy into technology, comics, video games, and farming bitcoins…and still dress hip and get the girls.  This is like a new kind of geek.

I am neither.  I’m not into any of those endeavors, neither am I social awkward or poorly dressed.  I don’t know what I am exactly.  I communicate like a business guy.  I organize like a project manager.  I’m not brilliant coder, but I know how to satisfy the customer.  I care more about music than about videos games and comics…and I’m not sure I get bitcoin.

In some ways, I’m never around my people.  I like being around coders.  I like being around musicians.  I like being around business people.  I like being around church people. But there’s always something holding me back from fully fitting in.  I’m an odd duck.  Maybe we all are in some way, but I am in a lot of ways.

That leaves me the question of who are my people?  That is simple.  My family are my people.  My wife, kids, parents, and brothers are my people.  There is nothing holding me back with them.  I guess I’m pretty damn lucky to have that.  Not everybody has that kind of a family or has a people at all.

I consider myself blessed.