Weeds: Just when you need a hug!

Pam calls him my imaginary friend. Lee lives in Burnsville and drives a Metro bus. We became acquainted years ago and started calling each other for no reason. We compare our days, share opinions, and talk stupid. We see each other once or twice a year, usually something to do with baseball. When we do, we greet each other with an over-the-top lengthy embrace, cooing ridiculous affections. It’s a guy thing.

Locally, I have two friends I have labelled the “Tall Bas—-s.” Dean and Scott are tall. Well, taller than me. When one or the other of us is suffering some loss, like when my goose died, we share a big ol’ man-hug. I sink into those long arms and feel comforted. It’s a guy thing.

I have read that whenever this health crisis ends a “new normal” might mean less physical contact between members of our species. Those warm embraces and hearty handshakes are, it turns out, perfect vehicles for transmitting viruses, bacteria, and who knows what else. That would be a shame. Just when I got good at this hugging thing.

Somewhere along life’s path, I became huggy. I’m not sure how this happened. I didn’t grow up with a lot of hugging. German ancestral stoicism was the rule for our family. I had more physical contact with the dairy cows on our farm than the people. We were nice to each other. Wasn’t that enough?

I never felt unloved; my parents just had different ways to show it. My mom made spectacular meals, enough to cause me to have that ‘well-fed” look. My dad showed he cared by giving me chores. Nothing says “I love you son” like handing him a pitchfork and telling him to clean that calf pen. My brother and I showed affection by hitting each other, pinching, scratching, all the usual ways siblings bond.

My first physical contact outside the home came when my teammates low-fived each other playing sports. Low-fiving was the prehistoric ancestor of high-fiving. This predated chest bumps and flying hip bangs. Some of those sports celebrations look they could hurt me now. I wasn’t very good, so most of my fives were therapeutic rather than congratulatory: “Nice try,” as I walked back to the dugout after striking out, low fives all around.

I remember first encountering people who hugged each other in college. It was a revelation for a kid off the farm. Hugging was awkward at first, more of sideways lean than a hug. That was the best I could muster back then.

Hand shaking is another potential victim of the current pandemic. Let’s hope not. When I meet someone, a handshake is a good first step in a new relationship. Or greeting someone I haven’t seen in a while, an immediate reconnecting. A head nod just doesn’t seem adequate. I remember explaining to son Ezra the import of a good and strong handshake when out in the world. I’d hate to see that skill go to waste.

We are all of us mind, body, and spirit. And until our leave-taking from this planet, the body part needs care and attention. A right amount of nutrition, exercise, and fresh air are necessary for health. Maybe touch should be included in that list.

We’re missing seeing our grandson during this time. He is four. Lifting him, holding him, wrestling with him are part of a relationship at this age, all fun stuff. It turns out necessary, too. Psychologists recognize that young children need a certain amount of touch as part of developing emotionally. Those who are deprived will suffer consequences decades down the road.

I mentioned that my parents weren’t hugging types. But I can flash back to the time just before each of their deaths, twenty years ago. There were moments when holding their hand, or just laying my hand on theirs seemed important, perhaps as much for me as them. In the current crisis, there are heartbreaking stories where this isn’t possible in the final moments for the dying. I can’t imagine the pain for those families.

A few times I have been with a friend who was going through something difficult, and friends gathered around to “lay hands” on them. I don’t pretend to understand that, but something good and even a little powerful was going on there. In that moment of prayer, it was as if mind, body, and spirit flowed together into a single channel instead of behind separate banks.

We know from the Bible that Jesus often healed with touch. In Mark 1, “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus was filled with compassion. He reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean.'” Could Jesus have healed that man simply by looking at him? Sure. But there was something human in the healing that wouldn’t have been conveyed.

There is a striking story, Luke 8, when a crowd is pressing on Jesus on all sides. He stops and asks, “Who touched me?” The apostles are confused because there was a jumble of people. “But Jesus said, “Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me.” A woman came forward, trembling, falling to her knees. She said in tears that she had been the one who touched him and had been healed in that moment of an awful disease she had borne for 12 years.

Jesus looked at her. “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Right there, in that touch, we have the meeting of the frailty of the human body, the power of the divine, and a miracle. It presaged the crucifixion and resurrection when all those elements would come together again.

We shall see what comes of the current situation. Some commonsense things like washing hands and staying home when sick will likely be with us into the future. There will be a period of distancing. But hopefully that will pass. And when it does, I plan to share a gigantic man hug with my tall friends.


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