Let's Talk About Hugs

By teZa Lord

Hugs and handshakes are good, and standing back is bad. Right? Not anymore. There are few absolutes in this universe beyond Change being the Name of the Game. I happen to believe that Love is also an unchanging principle of the Universe. Some call it consciousness, but I’m cool with calling this expanded state, simply, Love. Having more awareness about spreading dangers of infection is why hugs are no longer cool. Sadly, this is truly a new era for us all.

We are in the midst of a great sea change. Hugs are no longer taken for granted as they once were.

The one thing we know, in this Fall of 2020, is that hugging among non-familiars has become a danger in this pandemic-stricken world we live in today. The numbers of infection are once more rising. Along with the necessity of wearing masks, we must ardently continue to practice social distancing. So, hugs become the collateral damage of our life-or-death situation today, along with isolation and economic strife. But don’t worry. Change is life’s Game, right? This time of being aware of not-touching one another, even for the best of reasons, will be over soon enough. When we have a vaccine or herd-immunity happens, whichever comes first. Meanwhile, let’s discuss this huggie topic.

Pandemic Handshakes: Today’s Elbow-Bumps

Hugs and shaking hands are not within Covid-19 protocol these challenged days, period. As cases once again increase, we must remain vigilant and not become lax or complacent.

You may have learned, early in childhood, that a hug meant you were adored, treasured, and valued. For most of us, a hug was an intimate moment of feeling protected, embraced, accepted, and loved. But for a few, myself included, a hug can mean something else, unfortunately.

After trying to come to terms with the ubiquitous custom of greeting others with a hug, I, for one, am relieved to be officially, as everyone is, stand-offish during this hyper-alert time of social interacting.  Always not comfortable with hugging strangers, during Covid I am experiencing a period of relief.

Hugs Are Way Over-Rated

Hugs are not the only way to demonstrate an expression of one’s respect, and even love.

In today’s pandemic-conscious world though, if there’s anything I can say that’s “good” about this dreaded disease we’re in the midst of, I find myself oddly much more relaxed. For today, no matter what, hugging is understandably against Covid guidelines. Hugging anyone (except close family members) during an infectious plague is not only dangerous and risky, it is downright wrong.

When Hugging Hurts

Besides the rules-changing Covid-pandemic condemnation of touching and hugs, the #MeToo movement has validated the feelings of people all around the world that have, like me, always felt unwanted touches have no place at casual meetings, whether at social gatherings, schools, work, or places of worship. This Covid-time of “rethinking” physical touching each other, has empowered a lot of us to stand up for ourselves against anyone who would hug us without signaling our permission. Being socially distanced from others has offered me a new level of comfort in an otherwise threatening social realm where hugs occur far too often for my taste and are, in most circles in the western world, taken for granted.

Many times in the past, when I’ve been hugged by someone I didn’t know, I felt myself cringe. Or worse, I hugged someone because I “thought it was expected of me” and felt the other person cringe under my well-meaning embrace.

When I became aware of this odd unease of mine, in my mid-thirties, I swore off hugging altogether. I was sick of asking myself, “Should I? Shouldn’t I?” each time I met someone new. And then, after observing how others I didn’t know at all never thought twice about hugging me, a total stranger, I felt, well, more confused than comforted. Too often, a hug from another new person whom I didn’t know brought up feelings of unease real enough for me to acknowledge.

So, I set out on a pre-Covid no-hugging experiment. When I met someone new, I would stand back and wait to see how the other person wanted to be greeted before rushing in, pretending to be so groovy, so open and carefree, so … so huggie.

To Hug or Not to Hug … Not a Question Anymore

Now, in Covid times, when hugging those whom we have not been sheltering with is socially and medically irresponsible, everyone has been forced to stop being huggers and hand-shakers. The need of this cultural change took a while to sink in. For those people who instinctively hug, it’s been hard. And yes, I’ve been grabbed by a few friends who either forgot or didn’t give a damn about pandemic protocol, as I did as well, assuming a hug wasneeded or deserved when, in actuality I’m perfectly content not being hugged by anyone other than my sheltering pod.

To hug or not to hug, the difference can be viewed as symbolically analogous to respecting others. This can happen in many ways: the political, religious, or cultural realm, or any arena of life. People who only think of themselves, and not “the other,” will do as they please. Be it trying to hug when no hug is called for, or refusing to wear a mask in order to help all of us in our blended human family get through this difficult pandemic, sooner than later.

The Gift of Hugging

Like all of us I, too, had to re-learn how to interact in society, thanks to Covid-times. When my state (Florida) began to gradually reopen back in late Spring, my first foray out of the protection of our house was for a friend’s memorial service. It was the first funeral service I’d attended since the pandemic hit us between the eyeballs. In the spirit of empathy and caring, and without a single thought of impropriety, I embraced a relative of the deceased whom I didn’t know—and was met with resistance, fear, and downright shock! This sister of our friend had flown down from the hard-hit-by-Corona New York City area. She was, needless to say, traumatized by not only her brother’s sudden passing but by her area’s horrific death rate.

I felt our friend’s sister—who was completely covered in mask, long skirt, thick neck scarf, wraparound sunglasses, and wide-brimmed hat—tighten up in resistance at my violating her privacy, her healthy Covid-barrier. Rightly so, her frozen shoulders rejected my inappropriate hug, meant as an expression of solace. But thoughtlessly given in a time when I should not have. I, too, had failed to remember that hugging was, and continues to be, taboo. I quickly sensed the fright my act had engendered.

Immediately, I became suffused with feeling remorse over my actions. Hugs are meant to be an expression of concern and caring. Hugs are what I thought I should do to help someone, even someone I didn’t know, in a time of great sorrow. Moments before, I had hugged the widow of our close friend who’d died of an infection. But I didn’t know his sister. I did not need to have hugged her, nor should I have touched her. It was a mistake. I had to forgive myself, and I quickly did.

Ask … and Listen

I asked myself: Do I need to—once again, as I had in the no-hugging era of my past—give up the gift of giving and receiving a loving hug? The earlier experiment lasted until I felt myself hunger to be a hugger. I had allowed myself several years of not hugging strangers in order to investigate how it felt … to not hug, when so many others jump in, no matter what. After sufficient years went by, not feeling obliged to hug, I felt myself naturally drawn to wanting to hug certain familiars. As long as it was a conscious decision of mine, and not an obligatory one, I decided to be a hugger again and to enjoy it.

Slowly, I started hugging again. I realized that as long as I first asked myself, “Do you really want to hug this person?” and listened to the answer, and never felt obliged by society or peer behavior … then I could enjoy hugging such and such a person, known or stranger, without any negative feelings whatsoever.

That day at the funeral, feeling the grieving woman cringe beneath my unwarranted hug, I fully understood how, during a pandemic that is spreading and is nowhere near curbed, hugging is wholly inappropriate. It is the wrong thing to do with not-yet-knowns and in some extreme cases, with familiars, too. That day, I mindlessly acted. I reacted to her grief and plunged ahead with my idea of how to make it better. But what I actually did was incredibly dangerous, done without thinking things through.

Hugging Can Infect Somebody. Hugging Can Kill.

Fortunately, society now has alternatives to hugging. A person like me, who prefers not to hug doesn’t risk being called cold or aloof. At a funeral, it would be a solemn hand to the heart, or slight bow, a nod of the head, or a lowering of the eyes with a few words of sympathy. At other times, when emotions are not so high, there’s the closed fist-bump for hand-washing daredevils, and safest of all, the elbow-bump I learned from a doctor. High-fives are out for now, along with the handshake.

That said, to stay as safe as possible during the pandemic, it is probably best to steer clear of all physical contact. I greet people now with a “Here’s a Covid-hug for you” kind of dance, with open arms and swaying side-to-side, mimicking a Fake Embrace. If that’s too strange or goofy for you (it always makes people laugh!), you may decide to say something like, “I wish we could hug” to acknowledge your feelings of missing a common way of greeting we’ve all had to re-configure to help flatten the curve.

The Lesson of Hugs’ Ambiguity

Even though our instincts may still say that hugging is always good, just as we know that hitting is always bad, few things are as simple as that.

Love is always good, but these are strange, unprecedented times. We have to re-think our old ways, and keep working at new ways of respectfully showing that we care while feeling comfortable … and staying healthy at the same time.

 

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