“Hug o’ War”
Last fall, I returned to Briarcliff Oaks after working for many years at our other community. While moving my stuff” into my new office, I slipped in the back door one evening - grungy from loading the car, and hoping not to be noticed. On my third trip, a little group of residents I knew many years ago had collected in the lobby to welcome me home. And everyone wanted a hug. Nothing in the world could have meant more to me that night.
I had been at Clairmont Oaks for twelve years. I was leaving three hundred and twenty residents - all second mothers to me, and a dozen staff who were family. So coming “home” to Briarcliff was bittersweet. At my goodbye party the week before, I sat and listened as dear friends spoke precious words that left me sad and bewildered at leaving. Then everyone got in lines to hug me goodbye. I think we all laughed almost as much as we cried.
Some of the newest residents at Briarcliff, who never knew me, looked startled the first time I asked if I could hug them - and I always try to remember to ask. Recently, we’ve come to know each other better, and who is waiting for their “daily hug” as much as I am. Or who will scold me if I bustle through the lobby, preoccupied, and lose that priceless moment to stop and share a quiet moment of affection and caring. If eyes are the portals to the soul, then surely hugs are the opening of that door.
My mother tells us that my brother and I were very different: he couldn’t wiggle out of her arms fast enough, while I would play wildly for hours, and then collapse against her shoulder until she put me in bed. Perhaps it started there. I only know that in letters from friends dating back to junior high, I am reminded that hugs have always been an important part of life for me. And experience is telling me, they are important to nearly everyone.
Visiting an acquaintance who is completely paralyzed, I finally hugged her one day - and was greeted with rivers of tears. This confuzzled me for a long time. Was she happy, or was she sad. She couldn’t tell me. Then a friend gave me Chicken Soup for the Soul, and a story of “The Hugging Judge,” Lee Shapiro. Famous for hugging everyone from the participants in his trials to city bus drivers, the story finishes with his visit to a young quadriplegic resident of San Francisco named Leonard. After giving him a hat and a heart stickum, Judge Shapiro was startled by Leonard’s loud squealing during his hug. Turning for explanation, the crying doctors and nurses explained that they had never seen Leonard smiling before - in 23 years.
Our Director of Accounting, Nancy Norman, was startled the first time I hugged her. About a week later, she brought me a wonderful book of poetry and drawings by Shel Silverstein - for children of all ages. She handed it to me, open to this one:
I will not play at tug o’ war.
I’d rather play at hug o’ war,
where everyone hugs
instead of tugs,
where everyone giggles
and rolls on the rug,
where everyone kisses,
and everyone grins,
and everyone cuddles,
and everyone wins.
~ Shel Silverstein
Find someone to hug today.
And then try to keep from smiling.
~ Scott Nilsson
Atlanta, Georgia - USA / 2nilssons.com
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