The Space Between

I was warned this week that men were going to try to hold my hand.


I’m in Africa right now and one of the trip leaders told me to expect that grown men might try to take me by hand as we were walking together.  They also told me not to worry about it because it’s a perfectly normal thing for an African man to do with his friend.

This didn’t make me any less anxious, mostly because I’m not an African man.

It made me think about what I would do if an African man took me by the hand while we are walking…

Would I instinctively flinch?

I don’t want to be offensive.

Would I just act naturally?

How do you act naturally?

I’ve never held hands, as a grown man, with another grown man before.

What’s the protocol?

Do I swing my arms?

How hard should I grip?

Who’s thumb goes on top?

Will we interlock our fingers?

What do I do when our hands get sweaty?


All of this made me realize that I don’t just have anxiety about holding hands with someone I’ve just met, I am also pretty protective of my personal space…

I don’t like people standing within an arms length of me when we’re having a conversation.

I don’t like feeling the clammy elbow of the passenger next to me on an airplane.

I don’t like people I don’t know sitting right next to me at the movies.

I don’t like people standing too close to me in grocery lines.

I don’t like being one of three people in a car’s backseat.

I don’t like things positioned directly above my head.

I don’t like being touched while sleeping in bed.

I don’t like peoples hands near my face.

I don’t like people using the next stall.

I don’t like people parking too close.

I don’t like feeling mouth-air.

I don’t like getting bumped.

I don’t like ear-whispers.

I don’t like being poked.

I don’t like crowds.






For the most part, the people of the majority world don’t want, or need, a lot of space.  Often times I’ve found that they like being close together with other people.  They expect daily human contact and interaction.  Many of them view it as the sign of vital relationships.

As a sign of solidarity and unity it makes them feel connected,

It helps them feel safe,

It makes them feel strong.

Beyond this, human touch displays affirmation and affection.

It helps them feel loved.

It helps them show love.

It is also a display of protection.

I began to feel better about my African prospects when it was explained to me that when an African man takes your hand, it’s more than just a sign of friendship and affection, it’s also the sign of togetherness: “This person is with me, so don’t bother them.”

You are off-limits for hassling and exploitation.

They have taken responsibility for you.

This is opposite to the life many of us aspire to in the west.  We desire to be “individuals”, to provide for ourselves, to posses our own things and to only be responsible for ourselves on our own “personal journey” through life.

You see this reflected in how we spend our time…

“Ever since they moved it’s a hassle to go visit.”

Really? because we have cars and planes.

How we spend our money…

“We’re going to put in our own home theater.”

For “family time” right?

In our words and phrases…

“I don’t regret anything because it made me who I am today.”

How did it affect everybody else though?

I don’t know how I’m going to respond when an African dude holds my hand.

I think I’m just gonna hold his hand the way he holds mine.

and I’m not gonna let go until he does.

Even if it feels a little wierd.

It might just be the next step to getting over myself.

9 Responses to “The Space Between”

  1. Patty June 27, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    One of my favorite things – although usually it is a woman or a married Pastor that is holding my hand! But once we get over ourselves, it is love and protection, and a beautiful thing. Excited for your journey.

    • Jon June 27, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

      You are a great hand holder Patty! Looking forward to seeing you when we get back!

  2. Kimberly Kyllo June 27, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    This is so good on so many different levels!! Find myself smiling thinking of your “I don’t like…” list. I find that although I am a “people person” I too squirm with most of the same “I don’t like…” things. Reading/Praying this really great book called Praying God’s Word by Beth Moore.
    I’m stuck…by design of the Holy Spirit on the chapter titled Overcoming Pride. Ouch! Thought I’d share this little poem she wrote…My name is Pride. I am a cheater. I cheat you of your God-given destiny…because you demand your own way. I cheat you of contentment….because you “deserve better than this.” I cheat you of knowledge….because you already know it all. I cheat you of healing….because you’re too full of me to forgive. I cheat you of holiness…because you’re too full of me to forgive. I cheat you of holiness….because you refuse to admit when you’re wrong. I cheat you of vision….because you’d rather look in the mirror than out a window. I cheat you of genuine friendship…because nobody’s going to know the real you. I cheat you of love…because real romance demands sacrifice. I cheat you of greatness in heaven….because you refuse to wash another’s feet on earth. I cheat you of God’s glory….because I convince you to seek your own. My name is Pride. I am a cheater. You like me because you think I’m always looking out for you. Untrue. I’m looking to make a fool of you. God has so much for you, I admit, but don’t worry….If you stick with me…you’ll never know~ Pretty powerful! May I lay pride at the foot of the cross and somehow take the feet, face…maybe hand…of another and wash, hold, wipe a tear, hug a sweaty neck, clip some nasty nails. Praying for you~ Be blessed friend

    • Jon June 27, 2012 at 11:23 pm #

      Ah, this is so great! Thanks Kimberly!

  3. Sharon O June 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    I love your list of ‘I don’t likes’… many of them are mine too. Personal space is crucial to me. It is not comfortable to have someone in my space and if they don’t ask permission or at least pay attention I really don’t like it.
    (grocery stores are good for this example, when one is in line paying the other person behind should stay a moderate distance back)
    Enjoy your trip I am sure it is a great ‘lesson and learning curve for you’…and blog material too. :o}

    • Jon June 27, 2012 at 11:18 pm #

      I’m always getting trampled by the person in line behind me! Sometimes I have to start up a conversation to make a difference!

  4. Joe June 27, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    When I’m on an airplane, and a larger person is extending into my space, I’ve learned to relax and not worry about it. Choosing just the right tweet, or media, is no substitute for human contact and interaction.

    • Jon June 27, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

      So true bro, also i saw Denise today!

  5. Purity Driven Life July 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    I began to feel high levels of anxiety just watching that video….

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