One day someone is going to hug you so tight that all of your broken pieces will stick back together.
Jim was a Home Child, a former Barnados orphan, shipped across the Atlantic at the age of eight. Wrenched away from all he knew, picked from a cattle pen in Halifax by an unknown farmer, he somehow grew up into a respected member of his community – church warden , in fact.
He was philosophical about his forced emigration. “I was never hungry in Canada. I could always go into the barn and eat turnips.” His face grew wistful, “But no one ever hugged me.”
I met him when writing a story for The Toronto Star and quoted his words, never dreaming of the result. His childhood classmates threw a party for him – and everyone there hugged him.
Hugs work and hugs heal. But do we hug the right people? Apparently, one of the greatest pains of widowhood is lack of physical touch. I am a great, instinctive hugger. My heart opens and I gather friends in, but that is in response to their warmth or a close conversation. Something clicks and a hug feels right.
But who hugs the lonely, the isolated, the bereft? And how, when often they are almost icily walled off by their circumstances. My father, when widowed, lived alone with friends nearby, but did anyone hug him or put a kind hand on his arm?
Then there's that closed privacy that is hard to breach – and should we? Is it an impertinence? I have a friend who always greets people, standing stiff like a collapsed ironing board and announcing baldly, “I don't hug.” It's her choice, but it always makes me emotionally fold my arms. It is difficult to talk of deeper things. What would happen if she let herself hug?
And who would we become if we hugged more? If we used touch to communicate compassion, we would first have to see the other, not rush past, checking off our todo list. To hug, we would have to empathize. And that brings forgiveness. Would we also heal ourselves?