Coverage of the passing of the South African revolutionary, Nelson Mandela, filled the airwaves this past week. But at his memorial, a handshake between Presidents Obama and Castro caused another news flurry which almost competed for space in the press.
Now at a high profile memorial service being broadcast worldwide, it would make sense that etiquette and common courtesy would be the main reason for this Obama/Castro handshake. It really shouldn't be a controversial situation and despite the inflammatory rhetoric of folks like John McCain, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and company. One-time Cuban exile Marco Rubio (who never really was an exile) went as far as saying that he would have taken the opportunity to pose idiotic questions to Raul Castro had he found himself in that situation. I find that hard to believe that he would ever find himself in that situation and if he ever was in the presence of a true revolutionary, given the amount of water Rubio is known to drink, he would probably piss in his pants.
I don't think that as some of the right-wing has suggested that the handshake was a propaganda coup by Cuba. If there is any coup it would be one against the folks who tremble at the idea of engagement between Cuba and the United States. To me, the handshake was a mere diplomatic courtesy and not much else.
But if we put the handshake in the context of the President's recent statements about needing to find a more logical way of dealing with the Cuba issue, it could be in essence a metaphorical doorway. Obama finds himself standing at the doorway of a neighbor who has invited him over for coffee but the past frictions make him unsure if he should knock or turn and walk away. He has the invitation, he would have support, and if he were to strike up a conversation with the neighbor he would likely find out that all those fears that kept him away for so long were unjustified.
A lot depends on what the Presidents decides to do at the doorway. Separated people would begin to reconnect, even more than they are already. The sugar that one neighbor could ask the other for could be shared and conversely the other neighbor could use the other's tools to help repair his house. The neighbors could cooperate in ways they haven't in decades.
Not to mention that the same fears that have prevented any polite conversations in the past could be confronted to easily bring home an elderly American to his family and four Cubans home to theirs.
By pure chance so much weight has been placed on this handshake when it was never probably meant to be anything more than a courteous gesture at a memorial service for a giant of world history. An unexpected occurrence can sometimes be among the most meaningful. Or opportunities can be squandered.
President Obama, have the coffee. Go inside. Both neighbors have a lot of catching up to do.