The history held within a handshake

Published: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 04:26 PM.

Have you ever thought of what the shake of a hand means beyond the mere friendly physical connection between two human beings? When we embrace we make a connection that links us to history.

Several years ago I shook the hand of history. Through that grip flowed a connection to U.S. history back to the 19th century and before.

During a visit to South Korea, I had the opportunity to meet and shake the hand of South Korean General Paik Sun Yup, commander of the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) 1st Division during the Korean War, ROK’s Army chief of staff and chairman of the ROK chiefs of staff, and twice a recipient of ROK’s highest military award (as well as a U.S. Silver Star and four U.S. Legions of Merit). He also was the ROK ambassador to Taiwan, France and Canada, and served as the ROK Minister of Transportation. Undeniably, he’s quite a man in his own right. I was honored to meet him.

But by shaking Gen. Paik’s hand, a time machine was created. And that time machine, that human connection, linked me back in time to at least one period of history — to my American history. During the Korean War Gen. Paik shook the hand of U.S. five-star General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, commander of the United Nations’ forces during the Korean War and hero of both World Wars I and II. Gen. MacArthur shook the hand of U.S. Army Gen. John J. Pershing during World War I. Gen. Pershing shook the hand of Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman during a meeting late in Gen. Sherman’s life. And Gen. Sherman — the same general who offered a captured Savannah, Ga., during the Civil War to the president as a Christmas gift on Dec. 21, 1864 — shook the hand of President Abraham Lincoln.

Through gripping the hand of Gen. Paik, I was transported back through a human chain that connected to President Lincoln. Not only was I connected to Lincoln himself, but to his one-room log cabin where he was born in 1809.

I was reminded of this when I was in Sarasota, Fla., this past weekend. I was there visiting family in an assisted living facility. Yes, due to physical and mental limitations the residents here are assisted with bathing, room cleaning, and with their medications. But otherwise, they’re very — some fiercely — independent.

My family members in Sarasota are in their 80s. Through my connection to them I’m taken back to their younger days when not only were they fully independent change managers (as most of us are when we’re younger), but when they were international creators of change. I was taken back in my time machine to the D-Day landing on Normandy during World War II and further back to the mean streets of Brooklyn and Perth Amboy in the mid-1920s where German, Russian, Yiddish, and Hungarian words could be heard far more often than English.

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