Up until yesterday, I have been living a hugless life. That is to say that for a period of about 12 days, I have neither given nor received any human contact by way of a hug. This is the result of the recent social disorder that we call the Covid pandemic.
I never really thought about how difficult it would be to abstain from hugging. My wife and I are huggers from a long line of huggers. Though I will say that her family has been better at it than mine. Her Mama was the hugging Queen.
My wife walks into the room. We hug. I get ready to leave for work. We hug. She puts a lot of effort into roast beef, mashed potatoes, fried okra, corn on the cob, biscuits and gravy. I go into a hugging frenzy.
Since I’ve been waiting on test results, I have been overly conscientious about what I touch in the house. I grab the cabinet door by the edge and not the knob. I turn on light switch with the back of my hand. I fist bump Max on the nose. I put the knife with peanut butter on it in the sink without licking it clean first. And I do not hug.
Some of you have told me that this separation is about to drive you nuts. The loss of human contact is putting a strain on your emotions. You visit your Mother on the front porch from 15 feet away without touching. You wave to grandkids from the car.
So, when I got my negative test result back yesterday, the first thing I thought about was a hug. And when I got home, Beth met me in the drive way. The setting sun shone through her auburn hair. She ran to meet me in slow motion. Violins were playing. And we hugged.
Actually, she was outside only because she was leaving to go pick up our granddaughter and I had a chance to hug her before she jumped into the car and drove off. We are at that age when running is dangerous. And, there were no violins.
But it got me to thinking about the power of a hug. Hugs are God’s medicine for the soul. He gave us two arms for a lot of reasons, the foremost of which is to hug another human being. To embrace another lifts the heart out of despair. To wrap your arms around a friend or a loved one is to heal what hurts and to celebrate life.
If you’ve ever been given a hug by a 5 year old that thinks you are perhaps the greatest Grandpa on earth, you know what I’m talking about. Little kids give full body hugs. Legs, arms, neck. Every part is given full leverage and with a bear-sized squeeze. The effect of a kid hug needs no explanation.
I tell her, “I need a hug.” And she throws herself into it full throttle.
“Is that the best you got?” I tease. Then she hunkers down for the most serious hug of the century. I can feel neck vertebrae bending under the pressure.
I have hugged in hospital waiting rooms and at grave sides. I have hugged in delivery rooms and church foyers. I have hugged at weddings and at long good-byes. And everyone one of them lingered long after my arms were back by my side. Every last one of them said volumes without speaking a word.
That’s the power of a hug. If I say nothing, you know what I mean. The message is understood.
This was never more clear to me than one hot July day thirteen years ago. You might think that no one would remember a hug from that long ago, but you would be wrong.
My son lost his girlfriend to a tragic car accident. Family and friends stood on the side of the road as the emergency crew pulled her car out of a small pond. He was distraught beyond comfort. I grabbed him up in my arms and we embraced for what seemed like an eternity. There were no words. But something like strength and calm and composure passed between us as we stood there locked up together. It was a moment of reassurance defined by a hug. I was exhausted and full all at the same time when it was over.
Hugs have a way of disarming all the emotions that go wrong. A hug makes things right. The anger and hurt and disappointment that can rear its head in a marriage can start to heal as long as there is a hug in there somewhere. A college student who comes home with news that shocks and rocks their world to the core can be made to feel whole again in the arms of a hug. It’s hard to fight or feel broken in the grasp of a hug full of hope.
I’m not a 60’s Flower Child shouting “peace not war”. In fact, I have thought about the possibility that sparing the rod has perhaps spoiled a lot of today’s half-grown children. A good old fashioned whipp’n back a few years ago might have steered this craziness in a different direction. Even so, I’m wondering if one thing our city streets need right now is just a big old hug.
I’m not buying into the tale that the world is an awful place. That violence is the only way to be heard. That hurt wins over hope.
I’m a softie when it comes to long overdue reunions. Soldiers coming home to children and a wife who all run into his arms. Tears flow. “Daddy, I missed you so much.” The surprise and elation of a hug that has been dreamt about for months on end.
Teenagers at graduation are there to celebrate the friendships that have been forged and the dreams that are ahead. They pass the time moving through the crowd looking for one hug after another. They have the feeling that a part of their life is over that they will never get back and that the only way to say what they feel is to hug everybody in sight.
Even though a hug is a simple thing, some of us are not good at it. Some of you cringe at the thought of a hug. Some of you just plain don’t want another person in your personal space. The man hug is quick and is more like a chest bump with a slap on the back.
But if I were a betting man, I’d say that as soon as we see our way out of this pandemic and we get beyond the fear of germs, the hug will make its way back with a vengeance. Hurt and tears will be wiped away. Fear will be calmed. Joy will be overflowing. Life will be celebrated. And all with the gesture of a hug.
Pooh said it best. Eeyore was in his usual dismal frame of mind.
“Pooh” he said, “you and Piglet don’t want to be around me. I’m just a sad, sad person who only makes everyone else sad.”
“Well, Eeyore,” Pooh said, “maybe a hug will help.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Probably not. Your arms are too short.” Eeyore moaned.
“That doesn’t matter,” says Pooh. “Any hug is just the right size.”
Hugs to all of you. Hope we all feel better soon.