Answer: More than you think…..
I was at the opera last night enjoying the wonderful production of Don Pasquale. I noticed in the playbill that there is actually an opera entitled, “Nixon in China”. I was taken back that someone could actually do an opera about Richard Nixon. I shouldn’t be surprised because someone actually has and it has premiered this year at the Met. It is actually about the history-making trip that a very conservative president made to Communist China in 1972. Nixon was a real almost McCarthyite, blacklist Communist fighter in his past. Now, he of all people is making a historic trip to China in which had been characterized as “the week that changed the world.”
As I read an article by journalist Bernard Kalb, I was intrigued by the questions people were asking. One in particular was would Nixon shake the hand of China’s premier Chou En-Iai? In the past, – during the Geneva conference of 1954, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles snubbed Chou by refusing to shake his hand. The Chinese never forgot that snub. Now, the world was wondering, would Nixon do the same? Actually, Nixon stepped out of the plane; arm first, hand jutting forward, to reach for the outstretched hand of the communist premier. History had just happened. For 25 years there was no communication, but that would change with a handshake and from there a break in the icy cold relations between the U.S. and China.
It’s interesting what a small thing like a handshake, a smile, a pat on the back or a welcoming gesture can do to a situation. Every Sunday, we observe an ancient Christian ritual that goes back to the earliest of times – the sharing of the peace. It is a handshake, or a hug or an affectionate kiss that takes place in the middle of our worship. Even there it cracks open all formality, allowing warmth, physicality, hospitality and sincerity to touch others in a very palpable way. Every Sunday we have an opera going on where the people of God gather to remember and lift up the mighty deeds of God and reaffirm his promises. We gather for the Eucharist, but we’re sealing it all with a wish for the peace that passes all human understanding by sharing with each other the peace of Christ and simply shaking each other’s hand.