I read this on Tumblr this morning:
For most of my life I’ve appreciated a certain level of decorum when meeting other people, or interacting with them. I mean, not every exchange with a person has to be sanctioned by the embassy, it should be free and relaxed. Well, with some of us it’s easier said than done, and I’m one of those people.
Recently however, something has changed for me. I met an associate positioned overseas and it was like she had been starved of all human affection for months. She instantly threw her arms around me and hugged me so tightly, I mean my whole body. She did it twice, and cried when she did it, all in front of other people! I’ve never hugged her before that day, and she continued to do it each and every time we crossed paths. She says I look like her husband, that I have an air of authority. She lost fifteen pounds in three months due to the stress of her assignment. Being “alone” in a foreign country for the first time will do those kinds of things to a person. I remember the first time I noticed my cheek bones in a mirror after two months “alone.” I had never noticed them before.
Maybe it’s the walls falling down, I don’t know, but I’ve instinctively started touching people on the shoulder more frequently, patting them on the back. It’s a safe gesture, nothing sexual, and it works with men and women alike, even children. I think it helps me as much as them.
Today I was simply talking with a young mother, her eyes were warm, her voice welcoming, and I was about to rub her on the shoulder to support her for something she has gone through. I glanced at the freckled flesh of her sleeveless shoulder, and she noticed where my eyes went. Then I reached my hand up to touch her, and before I could even reach across the distance, she had thrown her arms around my neck and pressed herself completely against me. My arms folded around her like the great wings of a bird, instinctively. I’ve never even clasped hands with her before. I read somewhere that when a person taps you on the back during a hug it means that they want you to let go. I seem to immediately start tapping tapping tapping automatically, every time. But… please don’t let go. I tapped her with my wide open palms, but she buried her face in my chest for a solid ten seconds. After five seconds I sensed that she needed something, so I stopped tapping and let my hands wrap around her. Then it was over.
It’s strange that I don’t know what caused her to hurt, but whatever it was, I hope she found what she needed in my embrace. I find that there are people who need this from me, and it’s surprising to me. All this time I’ve been so straight faced and formal with people, because I’m more comfortable keeping my distance, playing it safe. But when I think back to the most meaningful relationships I’ve had in my life, hugs were regular occurrences. Some relationships began with a sudden unexpected hug out of nowhere. I remember those moments, more than the ones where I was diplomatic and appropriate. I remember pressed affection that happened in the spur of the moment, not the moments planned or the moments artificial.
You can’t fake a meaningful embrace. You can’t forget it either.
I was just thinking the other day how many go through long stretches of life without human touch. No one should have to go without that.
I thought it was a beautiful post and reminded me of my one son.
From the time he could crawl he seemed to intuitively know the person, in any give room, that needed a hug. He would head straight for them and climb into their lap and lay his head on their chest or their shoulder and hug them. He would stay inert like that for as long as it took, and then he would sit with them, just spending time.
As he got older his little legs would propel him forward, crashing into people and hugging their knee caps. He did not bother himself with whether they hugged him back, he was the tool and he knew what he was doing. It was uncanny how he just seemed to know that this friend of ours had just left his wife, this stranger had just found out they had cancer . . .
I marveled at his open heart, but like we all do, after time, we just came to take it for granted that this was who he was and that is what he did.
And then, one day, he had to have surgery. There was a hernia repair, some dental corrections and a couple of other minor things that they decided to do all at once. We were fortunate to have a children’s hospital in the area that put the needs of the child ahead of schedules. All the doctors managed to agree to be there and do their bit, with one anesthetic. In recovery, he was one sick little boy and he lay on the bed pale and lifeless, uninterested in much of anything. I stroked his tiny head and stayed by his side.
A friend came to visit on her way home from work. She was elderly and was really having a difficult time dealing with her life, unmarried, and now unwell herself. She had been very depressed and I had not seen for some time. She was always kind to the children and I thought it lovely of her to make the effort to check in on myself and my son. She walked into the room and leaned over brushing my son’s hair back from his forehead so she could plant a little kiss as he slept. His eyes fluttered open and as he saw her, he leapt out of his blankets, jumped into her lap and hugged her. It was so sudden and unexpected both of us were taken aback but I smiled as he clung to her and she held him tight and tears started to flow down her cheeks.
It reminded me that no matter how bad our life situation is there is still much that can be done with a kind human response. I had been so busy, too busy to visit her. I had a million excuses that anyone would have supported me with. But here we were with my own child putting those excuses to shame. He was not thinking about himself and his own pain. He only saw her need, and he answered the call with the one thing he could do. As he comforted her, she comforted him, and he sighed in contentment and tucked his head onto her shoulder.
My son is a man now, often given the responsibility for many men in his line of work and I see his heart as if he were still that little boy. I am not sure why people are not as comfortable with hugs as we should be; we certainly find it easier to accept hugs from a child than we do from another adult. My son may not be as easily able to hug others, but he has found other ways to reach out to the people around him, to remind them that someone else is there with them. He has never forgot the experiences of his childhood. He honours his gift.
And I have to say, one of the nicest things for me, in going home to visit, is his hug when I see him. It has been, and always will be, a reminder of the parts of my past that were filled with love and hope and a deep sense of family. It was and is a wonderful gift for a man to possess.
I was so grateful for this post today and to be reminded that I need to put more effort into connecting with others around me. Life is not just about when I feel like I need a hug. It is about being aware of those around me who need one too.