Two Extraordinary Moments Where a Single Hand Gesture Tells the Whole Story

Twice today I have been very moved to come across gloriously beautiful — dare I say transcendent — images, where the poignancy of the moment was movingly emphasized by the small unconscious movement of a single hand.

First, thanks to Deacon Greg, I saw the La Stampa photo of Pope Francis kissing a man so seriously disfigured that most of us would likely find him difficult to look at, and would turn away.

Everyone is looking at this picture, and it is, indeed, breath-taking.

But this is the image, a few frames later, that really grabbed my heart:

When you go to the slideshow, you see La Stampa’s headline reads “Pope Kisses a Man Plagued with Boils”, and that would be bad enough, but I suspect the poor man is really afflicted with neurofibromatosis, also known as Recklinghausen’s disease, which can cause deafness, difficulty walking and sometimes crippling pain.

If it is indeed neurofibromatosis, then it is very possible that this man has been shunned and disregarded for decades. Some people would even look at him and decide that his quality of life is likely so miserable, so socially valueless that it might not be worth living. Pope Francis — like his namesake before him, who famously kissed a leper — thinks differently, and he wants us to think differently, too. Throughout the slideshow you see that more than simply kissing this man, Francis clearly prayed over him.

A kiss is pretty special, true, but laying hands upon that which can repulse us, and allowing them to linger there, and then praying with and for that person — that’s a wholly different, deeper sort of unity. Where they stood may have been very crowded, but in this moment there was a peculiar intimacy of oneness, and the way this challenged man lays his own hand upon Pope Francis’ arm is eloquent of it.

A Pope his laid hands on a sick man, and a sick man laid his hand upon that Pope with a sense of utter trust, safety, familiarity and consolation.

Look at that hand, and how confidently relaxed it is. This man is not clinging to Francis; he is uniting with him.

Serious healing is going on here, though it may not be obvious. We believe in things visible and invisible, and healing can be visible or invisible, too. Perhaps what is being healed in this moment is decades of injury — rejection and derision — heaped upon this man from a world obsessed with beauty and perfect fitness, and less so with the soul.

I wonder how much serious healing, spiritual healing, is going on — is perhaps begun — as these images are being passed around the world, thread by thread, email by email.

It’s beautiful. It’s so needed.

And then there is Musharaf “Mushy” Asghar, a Yorkshire lad who had missed a lot of school because his debilitating stammer had made him the object of bullies; his imperfection had made him — like the man above — a victim of derision and rejection. Watch the video. The whole thing is touching, but see if you notice the brief second wherein another breathtaking moment of human union was beautifully articulated.

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Did you see it? Watch again and pay attention to 1:17-1:19, when the teacher is listening so intently to Mushy, and — all unconsciously — touches his hand to his own heart.

The hand-to-heart is one of those universally spontaneous motions that signals, “I’ve been plumbed unto my depths.” How rarely we get to see such moments, anymore.

That too is a hand that tells a story of healing. Look at the teacher; he is bedraggled; his shirt is ill-fitting; he likely works very hard and sacrifices much, including thoughts of himself, because there are more important things at stake than his appearance, or his wardrobe. You see what really matters to him in that fleeting moment. Hand to chest: here is fulfillment and love and union.

We so often pass right by what is most beautiful in life. These small unplanned moments are prompts to the rest of us — as meaningful as a conductor’s raised hand before the eyes of his musicians — and they’re saying “pay attention to the rests, the pauses, the small movements. They are what make the symphony coherent, instructive and worth diving into.” They help us see the whole picture.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Heloise1

    1 Samuel 16:7

  • RClark

    Oh, dear Anchoress, thanks for your faithfulness to your ministry. These glimpses of God-touched humanity not only demonstrate healing in others, they open a door for our own healing.

  • Cheryl

    That photo of Pope Francis just slayed me. In the photo I saw, all I could see at first was the disfigurement. It gave me pause–yes, momentary revulsion–at first. And I have two disabled brothers. Then I saw how the man leaned into Francis and how Francis held him. You are right, they were one. This pope of ours, he is teaching so much. Not that this stance, so radical in our culture, is new. This is our Church.

  • A realist

    Lets get real here people. This bloke doesn’t need a kiss on the head or to be prayed for, he’ll just die. He needs a big course of Antibiotics and then some nutritional and hygiene advice, that’s about it.

  • David DeAtkine, Jr., MD

    almost certainly Neurofibromatosis, yes. God Bless Francis and his mnistry to the World. He is bringing Christ to us all. “So shines a good deed in this weary world”.

  • MN J

    I had a friend a long time ago – she ended up marrying a man with a very hearvy stutter. But, when he played his guitar and sang, no stutter.

  • polycarped

    I rarely cry – but I shed a distinct tear or two at the end of that video – it was impossible not to. How hard-hearted we can so often be and it’s moments like that that make us realise how precious every person is.

  • Mary

    This is lovely, for sure, and very moving, but to act as if it is so rare is to ignore what is all around you. The nurses and doctors and other caregivers who, yes, get paid to care for patients, but then go the extra step of loving them and showering them with affection and devotion. To all the parents and families who sacrifice and sacrifice for the disabled and ill among them. Do you not know people who do this? I think what Francis has done here is wonderful, but I think what devoted parents, families, nurses, doctors, other carers do for years, years, not just for one picture, is extraordinary.

  • Manny

    Brings to mind St. Francis of Assisi with the lepers. Or St. Damien of Molakai. Very touching.

  • MeanLizzie

    You know, I thought about mentioning doctors and nurses — I had a brother who was “hard to look at” so I certainly have known good medical personal who see beyond it. But I didn’t mention them because 1) I really wanted to concentrate on the hands — which is what this post is about, really — and 2) What medical personnel do sometimes makes us forget that we’re supposed to do it, too. We easily compartmentalize. We think “well, a pope, or a doctor can and must do that.” But we’re supposed to, too. Don’t you think?

  • MeanLizzie

    Neurofibromatosis does not go away with a bath and some antibiotics. Get real yourself.

  • Manny

    I don’t think doctors and nurses quite do it like that. They certainly don’t kiss the afflicted.

  • Lindsay

    Its such a beautiful moment. We raise money for this disease, NeuroFibroMatosis with the Cupids Undie Run (100% proceeds go to Childrens Tumor Foundation). Our Team, B the difference, raises money in memory of a wonderful friend/brother who passed away a few years ago from the disease. I plead for everyone to take a look, get involved, its for the children. (hopecur (dotcom) team B the Difference, Lindsay Hardy) Every Penny Counts!

  • Lindsay

    we raise money for NF and childrens Tumor Foundation in memory of a friend who passed away. You know you wanna donate! Hopecur (dotcom) team B The Difference, Lindsay Hardy. Its for the children!

  • Lindsay

    Stunning isnt it! My friend passed away from NF (neurofibromatosis). he was a gentle giant, and great soul! Its such a sad and tragic illness. We raise money for it with cupids undie run, and the Childrens Tumor Foundation. You know you’d love to donate! Its for the kids! hopecur (dotcom), Lindsay Hardy, Team B the Difference. Its so amazing to be apart of such a great cause, and see such a great man as Pope Francis touch and pray for those suffering with the illness.

  • AugustineThomas

    This is a truly wonderful article.

    I was brought to tears looking at Pope Francis hugging the sick man. It feels as though you can see our Lord on their faces.

  • AugustineThomas

    St. Damien and St. Francis pray for us!

  • Vijaya Bodach

    Tears, tears of joy and hope.

  • jasonbmiller

    If you had ANY experience working with people who suffer from serious illness, ANY at all, then you would know otherwise. Isolation, loneliness, and despair are all to common. You are NOT as your name suggests, a realist. A realist would and should know this. Any healthcare professional would tell you this. You seriously need to go and do some volunteer work. But let’s be honest here – you’re just down on our religion, maybe even religion in general. In that sense, you are more isolated than the disfigured man in the photo. You will be unable to understand the needs and desires of the heart that are in 95% of humanity. You probably don’t want this, but you are in our prayers.

  • Victor

    I’m tongue tide Anchoress!
    Really Victor? :)

  • Victor

    (((I don’t think doctors and nurses quite do it like that. They certainly don’t kiss the afflicted.)))

    So rightly true Manny but I would be willing to bet that there are the odd so called crazy doctors who might do “IT” for a loved one.

    Like you quietly said, God Bless all past and future saints.


  • Alphonse Grech

    I was also seeing Mother Theresa of Calcutta by Pope Francis side

  • Naomi Kietzke Young

    One of the little details in the Acts of the Apostles that I so love is that Peter stopped and looked at the lame beggar before healing him. When Peter LOOKED at him, saw him as a person — that’s when the healing began.

  • Manny

    LOL, if a doctor started kissing my head I just might give him a knee where it hurts.