In my church, there is a point in the service where we shake hands and 'share the peace.' I've had colds before and have declined to shake, just citing the cold, and nobody had a problem with it (and actually seemed glad that I was refraining). Yesterday, however, there was a situation, and it got me thinking about how to handle something like that graciously and sensitively.
There were some people sitting in the pew behind us, and the (approximately) teenage son had some sort of a developmental disability. Later in the service, I saw he was wearing large headphones connected to an iPad. Not sure if it was the headphones or something else, but something gave me that impression as we sat down.
So we did the shaking hands and peace-sharing thing relatively early in the service. I first addressed the row in front of me, and then when I turned around, the teenage boy was right there and I was going to shake hands with him. But before I could, he took his hand and made a somewhat grunty sound while he wiped his open hand over his mouth and his nose.
My first, immediate thought (you know how fast a thought can flit through your mind?) was 'Ewww! How do I get out of shaking his hand after that?' I mean, I wouldn't even want to shake my own kids' hands after they did that. Thankfully, his mother stuck her hand in front of him and just circumvented anyone shaking his hand, so all was well.
But it got me wondering....if the mom hadn't swooped in and the young man did want to shake my hand after that, how could I have gotten out of it graciously? I don't know that he functioned at a very high level (throughout the rest of the service, he made various noises/grunts, and I noticed him rocking in his seat at one point) so I don't know that he would have understood it/been able to process it if I'd attempted to explain anything ('maybe you need a tissue...')
I'm sure it must be difficult for this mom and I'm sure that wiping action was just an involuntary tic of sorts. So I wouldn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But at the same time, I wouldn't want to shake the hand of anyone who has just wiped his mouth and nose with an open hand. Keep in mind that this is a 'shake as many hands of the people around you in a minute or two' type of thing, so it's pretty fast and doesn't really lend itself to conversations or explanations.
So what's the best way to handle something like this without being labeled as insensitive or intolerant to people with disabilities? (And I guess the offshoot is...how do I coach my kids to handle something like this sensitively?)