Thursday, April 7, 2011

History of a hugger

“What, no hug? I thought you hugged everyone,” said a friend of a friend one day, and of course I could do nothing else but to wrap my arms around this semi-stranger. Not because he asked me to, but because he was right. I do hug a lot of people.
It wasn’t always this way, though. Growing up I was the child who hugged her parents and grandparents every chance I got, but making physical contact with strangers was not something I did. It just didn’t feel right for some reason, as if I was as afraid of invading their personal space as I was of them invading mine.
Not only that, but it always seemed to be my luck that there would be an exchange of unpleasant cologne that would stick to me or, more likely, I’d leave a deodorant smudge on someone’s black shirt.
For those reasons and more, I avoided personal contact with non-family members for quite some time, and it wasn’t until I met one particular preschool teacher that my life as a hugger began.
Back when my first child left the nest and flew off to the land of cracker snacks and finger-painting, I did as most new mothers do. I panicked. And I cried. And I worried if my child rearing had been good enough that when I sent her away into someone else’s care, that that person wouldn’t think I was a total slacker mom.
Then I met the teacher, someone as wonderful at consoling weeping children as she is at consoling weeping mothers. She talked to me and looked into my eyes and put her hand on my shoulder as if to connect herself and send me positive vibes through her very touch.
I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t feel it with my very own arm.
Never have I felt so loved in the presence of a practical stranger. She made me feel OK the way a child feels when the kiss from a mother makes a boo-boo disappear. Magic, I tell you, magic.
From that day on I started to open my eyes to people in a whole new way. I tried to sense out the person who was having a rough time or was feeling a surge of emotion—either good or bad. And soon enough, I started touching arms and spreading love the best I could, just like that preschool teacher did for me.
Let me tell you, once you’ve gotten over the fear of hugging people, life changes.
You smile more, for one. You also feel a connection to a person that happens without words.
But there are, of course, rules for giving and getting a good hug.
First of all, one-armed hugs are the pits. They say, “you’re only worth 50% of my arms.” Secondly, the “dead fish” hug should never be practiced because it gives the hug-ee the impression that he or she isn’t worth exerting a single ounce of muscle flex, and that he or she probably is stinky. (This rule also applies to handshakes, which is a philosophy I’ll have to save for another day.) And finally, the “double pat” should also be a forbidden move. The “tap tap” on someone’s back tells that person that you don’t want to be hugged, and you’re just doing it to satisfy the other person, in which case I say you don’t know what you’re missing.
A good hug is a solid hug. It’s a firm squeeze that lingers just long enough to feel the other person’s warmth, to get a breeze of their natural perfume, to know that they really want to be there hugging you back. And for a brief moment during a good hug, two hearts will beat close together sharing some cosmic bit of connection that I may never understand.
There is actually a day designated for hugging. January 21st of each year is National Hugging Day. But for me and a certain preschool teacher who changed my life, I know the world needs it more than just one day a year.

Contact Karrie at KarrieMcAllister@aol.com or read more at www.karriemcallister.com.

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