Huggers and non-huggers. They are one of the world’s either-ors, which is how we often see one another: Carnivores or vegetarians, left wingers or right wingers, believers or non-believers. Unfortunately, such thinking is divisive and the source of intolerance and hatred.
But how about huggers or non-huggers? While not leading to the apocalypse, this division is an ordinary part of daily life like shoppers or non-shoppers. Some of my friends greet me with the gentle crush of a hug and others with a warm smile from across a crowded room. Does it really make a difference to smell lotion or deodorant when greeting someone?
I confess, I am a hugger. A Jack-come-lately hugger. I was not born or raised a hugger. My modest 8219 Terry St. house in Detroit was a home of infinite love but not of daily hugs. My mom, dad and I didn’t hug, nor did my Grandma Taylor, nor my Aunt Janet and Uncle Paul, who taught me how to fish without hugging them. Mom and dad supported me in all I did, in school and out. When I played football for Mackenzie High, mom cheered zealously from the stands, and when I went to college, first Wheaton, then Michigan, my dad worked a second job in an ice plant to make it possible.
Footnote: My high school, a huge red brick building with two swimming pools, an indoor track, large auditorium and 5,000 students when I attended, was torn down a few years ago. No more hugs there. Detroit needs hugs these days.
So when did I become a hugger? For many years I knew that to be a man was not to talk about anything other than sports and cars, nothing personal, please, and oh, my God, a man didn’t hug, just a slap on the back would do. For many years that’s how I saw my life as a guy. Sometime in the 1990s, though, something changed, and while I can’t pinpoint it, I became a tentative hugger, then a convert to a true-believer hugger. Hugging family and friends became lovely ritual. Of course, I have friends whom I dearly love who are uncomfortable with hugging, and I respect that.
But what is so great about hugging? Closeness. Hugging somehow blends us in a way that words don’t, creates a sharing of joyful moments, like “So glad to see you.” It is also a way of showing compassion for someone who is suffering, like “So sorry for what you’re going through.” And, it is a way of consoling one who is alone, sad, even despairing, like, “I understand, the darkness will lift, the light will come.” Hugs are a way of embracing another.
So do I preach hugging? Is this a sermon: Blessed are the huggers? Not really. Hugging will not solve the anger, hate and intolerance in our communities, nation and world.
I believe, though, that even if we don’t hug others, we should hug ourselves. When we are upset, fearful, sorrowful, we should not only say, “Cheer up,” but give ourselves a long, close, warm hug. And, maybe, if we can do that, we can hug others, metaphorically and literally. Hug others as ourselves.
Jack Hernandez is a retired director of the Norman Levan Center of the Humanities at Bakersfield College. The opinions expressed are his own.