On Hugs: Embracing Ambivalence

I live in a very huggy place. S.O.P. for greeting folks you know is a good, solid hug, and even if a first-time intro miiiiight include only a handshake, by the time you’re saying goodbye to your new acquaintance, welcome back to Hugsville.

This happens to be fine with me. But I can’t help but wonder, what about people for whom hugging is NOT fine? I know a few who, in a group, go along with the hugs, but I can feel that their body isn’t into it.

Why, I ask myself, should it have to be?

Hugs are supposed to be a physical demonstration of mutual affection.

Like this. [Photo by Edward Eyer, courtesy Pexels.]

But if someone’s preference for affection-demonstrating takes other forms than physical;

if, gods forbid, they might not be feeling all that affectionate;

or if they have ANY other reason that’s nobody else’s business why they don’t want someone’s arms wrapped around them in that moment–

shouldn’t they have a right to excuse themselves without being uncomfortable?

I don’t have a specific solution to this situation, except perhaps this: When thinking of hugging someone you’re not sure wants to be hugged…

…use the ancient, tried-and-true handclasp as default.

While clasping, make eye contact.

Use those ol’ windows-to-the-soul to look for clues: encouragement to move into full hug-mode? Or keep it right there?

“Oof…I wish she’d stuck with the handshake!” [Photo by Amanda44, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

What do you guys think?

Sending Love, Light, or What-Have-You: When Loaded Words Become Too Heavy

My sister had her hip replaced this week, halfway across the country. After spending the morning thinking about her–“Is she going under, right at this moment? Have they cut yet?”–I emailed my brother-in-law for an update. Telling him how I’d been fretting was not hard. But signing off was.

“Sending love”? True, but not sufficient.

“Sending love and healing”? Sounds like wishful thinking. Healing doesn’t sound like it’s mine to send, much as I wish it were.

“Holding you guys in the light”? Yikes.  This is what Quakers say, and my sisters and I were raised in Quaker traditions. But our upbringing was more on the social-justice side of Quakerism than the spiritual, and no one in our family talks this way.

“Praying for healing”? Well. Yes. That is exactly what I’m doing. But there’s no way I’m going to say that to my sister, or almost anyone else, unless I know for sure that they’re comfortable with that language. And, sadly, many of us are not.

Why is this? Over a series of walks, I’ve been pondering the way the words “I’ll be praying for you” have, due to (in my opinion) misuse, been hijacked by connotations of self-righteousness and judgement. If, when hearing those words, I analyze the thoughts behind them, passing them through a filter of what I know about the person speaking to determine that that person’s faith lacks any sense of superiority or condemnation, THEN I can accept being “prayed for.” But I don’t want to put my sister and brother-in-law through that exhausting process.

My friend Beth says she’s decided to go ahead and use the words, and trust that people will understand where they’re coming from and how they’re meant. I aspire to that higher stage of spiritual confidence, but I’m not there yet.

(Orig. image courtesy Nathan Brunner, Pinterest)

(Orig. image courtesy Nathan Brunner, Pinterest)

So for now I stick with  “Abrazos.” Somehow the Spanish sounds less cutesy to me than “Hugs”–much as I love hugs in any language. But one of these days, I might shock my family by telling them they’re in my prayers.

Yikes.Yikes. Nope–not there yet.


How do you deal with the issue of loaded words when there’s no other way to say what you mean? I would love to hear your thoughts. 


Hug Your Kids, Hug Your Parents, and Leave Newtown Alone

I remember exactly where I was when the news reports started coming in one year ago: driving the Senior Center van, delivering lunches. I was doing the exact same thing today, and that horrible Friday, December 14 of 2012, came back to me.

The disbelief. The helpless grief. The fury, searching hopelessly for a valid target…only to turn back into grief.

I only think of the Newtown massacre periodically, because I have no real connections to it. I know how lucky I am. And that is why I hope fervently that the news media heed the pleas that Newtown community leaders have been issuing for the past couple of weeks, to please, please, please leave them alone for this horrible first anniversary of their tragedy.

One year later, I don’t want to talk about gun control or mental health. I don’t want to argue. All I want to do is send healing love to those poor, torn-up families, and to stay out of their way. And, since I’ve re-opened this well of emotion which is now overflowing again, I plan to “hug” as many virtual kids as I can this weekend.

My own grown sons I have recently seen (and hugged) and will (inshallah) see and hug again soon. So tonight I’m going to call and email my two “goddaughters,” and send some hugs via email to all my former students.

(courtesy elephantjournal.com)

(courtesy elephantjournal.com)

What should we do to remember the Newtown families? Hug our own. If your own family is not available to hug, hug someone else’s kid, or mom, or dad. Call someone. Email someone. Tell them how much you love them.

Hugs can’t heal everything. But they can keep us going even in the face of that knowledge.

If you have your own words of remembrance or comfort, please share them. Then go and hug.