The Power of a Hug

Most difficult for me these last months has been not being able to hug and kiss my grandchildren. In this, I know I am not alone: the New York Times recently published instructions on how grandparents can hug their little ones and remain safe. Knowing that I share this longing with many other grandparents around the country is comforting, though it doesn’t diminish my craving. And, I’m pretty sure that hugging from the back or kissing the top of the head would do little to satisfy my yearning. That sounds like an arranged date. What I miss is planting a big kiss on a cheek or forehead those moments when one of my little ones seems particularly adorable. What I long for are my ambush hugs, when I half-lunge toward one of them, and once we’ve made contact, they look at me in knowing surprise and pleasure.

It’s become clear to me during the pandemic that I respond with my heart and mind to people and moments that move or give me joy. It’s not that I’m a “touchy-feely” type. Quite the opposite. Too much touching feels invasive, as if the person doing the touching doesn’t quite understand where their body ends and mine begins. Yet lately I’ve noticed how intensely I feel the urge to hug not only my grandchildren, but friends and adult family members who are struggling. I miss physical contact both for myself and those I long to embrace. Hugging now seems one of the best ways to communicate how deeply and broadly I care.

A very dear friend has been in the hospital this past week with heart problems. I keep thinking of him alone, without his wife at his side, facing all the unknowns and fears by himself. The last time I talked to him my desire/need to hug him grew within me, beginning as a seed containing my appreciation for his years of friendship and care, then growing, until it nearly burst from me. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I would have made the trip to the hospital to give him that hug.

Since we’re going to be sheltering in place, or at least wearing masks and maintaining social distance for some time, I’m thinking I need to learn how to communicate a hug verbally. Not simply by saying, “I send you a virtual hug,” but by finding just the right words to offer the receiver the experience of a hug orally. So far, I don’t have those words, but I’m working on it.

In the meantime, several days ago, the pandemic offered me the equivalent of a perfect hug from my seven-year-old granddaughter. I had just arrived at their house, was standing in the doorway waiting for her to come outside, and wishing so much that I could swoop her up into my arms. “Gosh” I said wistfully, “when I’m wearing this mask, you can’t even tell that I’m smiling and happy to see you.”

“Yes, I can, she quickly replied.

“How?” I asked.

“I know you’re smiling cuz you smile every time you look at me.”

In Tilden Park

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