I will hurdle pews to avoid shaking hands during church service. It’s a germapobe’s nightmare.
Cold and flu season was at a peak. Public schools closed throughout the nation by the hundreds. People lined up at clinics for vaccines like they were giving away tickets to a Justin Bieber concert.
“Maybe we should skip church today,” I said to my husband. “You know, more people seem sicker than usual.”
“I’m sure it will be fine,” he said, grabbing our coats.
At church, even the pastor suffered a malady. “Good morning everyone,” he coughed. With watery eyes, he continued, “Let’s stand for a prayer.”
Help me survive today.
I struggled to hear the service above all the hacking, sneezing, and throat clearing. Lozenges were passed around like jello shots. It was a veritable witch’s brew of germs and I frantically searched for a way out before the sign of peace.
You know what I’m talking about. It’s that moment before the scripture when the pastor announces, “Let us offer one another a sign of peace.” Each parishioner extends his or her hand to the closest neighbor, usually within a four-foot radius.
But lately, it has gone well beyond reasonable limits. I have been at services where people practically hop over each other and jump into the aisle to say “Hi” or “Good morning.” If offering the “Peace of Christ” takes longer that the actual service, it’s time for someone to call “uncle.”
But that’s not my point.
To avoid contact, I will pretend to pick something off the floor right before the sign of peace. Or read the Bible, fall asleep, act engrossed in conversation, even fake a faint, whatever it takes.
During this service, I planned to bolt to the restroom. I mentally prepared my stealthy exit right after the children’s service.
“Get ready to move over a bit so I can squeeze by you,” I whispered to my husband.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
I waited like a teenager for a text message. But today church was packed, stuffed like tamales in a jar. I ended up trapped, miles from the end of the pew.
And then the unthinkable happened. The parishioner in front of me had a coughing spasm more violent that a tsunami. Afterwards, he wiped his nose across the top of his hand and spit into a tissue. At that precise moment the pastor addressed the members, “Turn to your neighbor for the sign of peace.”
I tried to claw my way past ten other people, but it was too late. The Cough turned around and snatched my hand faster than I could say “Holy moly!”
“Peace be with you,” he murmured.
More like the kiss of death.
I stood paralyzed. My husband asked, “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Oh. My. God.
I remained frozen to my seat the rest of the service. As the pastor wished us farewell, we lined up to shake his hand. How can he do this each Sunday?
Like a politician, he grabbed my hand from behind my back and squeezed my sweaty palm. I walked like a robot to the car for a bottle of hand sanitizer.
What’s wrong with trying a fist bump? Salute? Bow? Nod?
Next time I will be the one at the end of the pew wearing gloves and waving like the Queen of England. After all, she’s ruled for 60 years and never shaken a single hand. This cannot be a coincidence.