At best I am an awkward hugger. It may be a timing thing. I usually don’t see the hug coming. I don’t want to freeze up and be unresponsive. I have just a split second to decide “Do I go high with the arms?” Then I wonder if I’m being too vulnerable, exposing the rib cage and belly makes it too easy for someone to stab me with a knife ( I might read too many spy thrillers). I’ve also popped a few people in the head coming in too fast with a High Hug. I could go in low with my arms close to my body which is only problematic if the person initiating the hug comes in low as well. We end up looking like a pair of Rock Em Sock Em boxers.
It probably is a height thing too. As a tall woman, if I am hugging some one of smaller stature than me I tend to come in Flying Eagle style and mummy wrap them with both my arms tying down their arms. That way the recipient may be able to avoid “too much face in the too much chest area.” If the other person is just a tad taller than me I have to deal with a whole other issue of not being able to breathe as my face is launched into a shoulder.
It’s got to be a bit of sensory issue as well. I would much rather have a Brute Bear Hug Squench than an English Tea Style Flutter Hug. Again, I have a split second to determine how long I have known the person, is it socially acceptable to Brute Bear Hug Squench or do a polite flutter step, if they are a flutter hugger can my sensory issues handle it for a brief moment, are they of a generation of huggers or hand shakers, etc. So much information has to be processed in short time period for a successful hug to go down. I keep trying despite my awkwardness to build that muscle memory of how to give a good hug.
A friend shared a story with me about a time not too long ago where he took an ex-con in drug recovery to help homeless men in St. Louis. My friend would find street guys and get them over to an area shelter for a hot meal. They came across a man whose humanity was dangerously close to disappearing. My friend described the homeless man as someone who probably couldn’t remember the last time he had a shower. Every bodily discharge from vomit to mucus was encrusted to the left side of his face. He most likely lived off the trash and was overlooked daily as trash. My friend’s buddy stumbled through asking the homeless man how he was and if he would like to come get a hot meal. There was a pregnant pause then the homeless man did something that was least expected.
He embraced the ex-con in an elongated hug.
There were decision to be made again in a split second of whether to receive the gift of the embrace. There was the moments of surprise and a few moments I’m sure to get over the bodily odors but then my friend tells me there were tears. Tears from both men but mostly tears from the ex-con. As my friend tells it, the ex-con did not remembered being hugged for almost 40 years. And here it came from the most unlikely of places.
My friend is an excellent story teller but one of the reasons this story of his will not leave my heart is what happened as we were preparing depart each other after coffee. We said our goodbyes, and said we loved each other and gave each other our typical hug goodbye at the street corner where we would go our separate ways. An older gentleman stepped in and laughed and asked if he could have a hug too. There was no hesitation between the two of us. We joined in a group hug with a complete stranger. And there was an immediate sense of having done the right thing to create unity and joy on a street corner.
We all need a muscle memory of our human-ness. We need physical touch to buffer each other against this difficult world of constant tension and derision. Go ahead and do the easy thing of hugging friends, family, young children, and dogs. And then do the thing that proves we are meant to be on this planet at the same time with each other and hug someone you don’t know. Flex your humanity muscle.
See how you can change your world with building that muscle.