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  • I’m not a hugger by nature. What I mean to say is, I love my children, my family, and have thought that I have freely shown affection to them, but to others in the world, I typically do not initiate the hugging process. I will gladly receive a hug, from just about anyone and do not feel as though my personal space is being violated or a sexual situation is presenting itself, but I will not offer you a hug, doing so has just felt awkward. It’s just not my language.

    I know a lot of huggers i.e. those that freely give hugs away like handshakes or candy at Halloween. I don’t consider myself to be one of these people. In my defense, I’m uptight, guarded, and don’t particularly enjoy moments of deep, physical vulnerability on a platonic level.

    And another thing, if hugged, I have always been the first to pull away.

    One of my best friends is really the first big, true hugger I knew in my adult life. A beautiful woman, wife, mother, teacher...I am blessed that we work together. I don’t think there’s a working day that goes by where I don’t get a big hug from her. Gracious and kind, and always with open arms, her patience with me has been humbling. I just don’t think I was ready to understand this language of a hug that she spoke with great fluency.

    Lately, I've been bedraggled, worn out, fatigued. Even in my home, I could not rest. I would clean, get preoccupied and productive. I needed a break. I needed the sound of silence to fill me, not shatter me. So I went to a quiet sanctuary and sacred space, run by gracious and hospitable sisters. Wouldn’t you know the first things one of them did, right after they took my suitcase out of my hand and before I even had my coat off was to hug me?! I mean, an open, deep, wooing sort of hug! I don’t think I’ll ever forget that hug. I’ve carried it with me for a while now, thought of it often, because it pleases me so.

    All these things combined have got me scratching my head and thinking about hugs lately. I’ve been thinking huggers know something I don’t.

    So today I did a "hugging experiment"... on 5 & 6 year-olds in our class. It was called “Hug 'n Shrug”. It goes like this: you sit in your little bitty chair, which is usually a bright, primary color, try really hard to keep your feet in front of you and not let your bottom wiggle too much, and you give yourself a big hug with both arms wrapped tight around yourself, then release, then shrug your shoulders by bringing them as close to your ears as possible, release, then stretch your neck as long as a giraffe’s. Repeat. Relaxation Technique 101.

    As a class, we did Round One of "Hug 'n Shrug". The kids became quiet, I knew they were tuning into their bodies. I was onto something here, so I pushed it a little further with these guys. The rain was pouring outside, so I invited the children to close their eyes and just listen to the sound of the rain hitting the roof while repeating the "Hug 'n Shrug" process.

    This felt even better, I wanted more. So invited the children into a conversation about Compassion. What does Compassion really mean? What is it? Even for most grown ups, this is hard, not just to define but to do intentionally.

    “Compassion is a word that means taking care of each other,” one long, brown haired girl offered after several attempts to hone in on the essence of such a complex word. Yes, yes, it is. We agreed that this was the definition we would use for “Compassion”. So, together, this group of small children and I, closed our eyes, listened to the rain and hugged ourselves even tighter. Round Two of "Hug 'n Shrug".

    During this compassionate, self-embrace an idea came to me. I asked the kids to remember the kindest words that were ever said to them, and while thinking about these words in their head (not out loud), to speak these words over themselves once more.

    Then we opened our eyes.

    We looked around at one another. The kids were so quiet... I was amazed! This was good, this felt good, as a class and for myself. I was curious, so we continued on, to an unknown destination. So once more I extended an invitation to the children to offer a friend, which in our class, everyone is called a “friend”, a compassionate hug. I let them know that maybe they needed to think about someone they had wished they had been kinder to this morning, or someone they didn’t get to sit beside at snack, or maybe just their best friend, go and offer them a big, open compassionate hug, like the one they had given themselves. Just hugs, no words.

    And one by one, the children chose a friend to hug. Squabbles from earlier in the day were repaired, best friends walked all the way across the room to give big hugs, the quietest children were approached by the more robust. I was witness to a beautiful thing that I was neither the author or perfector of, but oh, what smiles!

    During our class Specials, the time when our class goes to art, dance, or music teachers for lessons, I stopped by to see my closest friend, the one who is the big hugger. Her husband is in the Armed Services, and was shipped to Afghanistan for 13 months today.

    She has 5 children and works full time; she has her hands as full as any woman I know, especially now and in the months to come. At this point, I’m helpless to fix her worry, the loneliness she will face, the loss of time her husband will suffer in their children’s lives, the separation their children will feel from their dad, their rock.

    The problem I have had with hugs is that they don’t fix anything. There isn’t one of her worries I can fix with a hug or anything else I’ve got. But when I saw her today, the threads of our friendship woven so deeply between the two of us, I needed to hold her, to offer the warmth and concern of my heart. We hugged good and long: her head turned down and I felt the weight of her flesh drop onto the strength of my frame and I was not the first to let go, not this time.
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