On the last day of work before the agency dispersed to work at our respective homes, I hugged a girl. I’m not really a big huggy person, except with my family. And even then, there’s a pause, a moment of hesitation. Do we go in for the hug? Who makes the first move?
My hugs are all over the place. Everything from hanging on for dear life to downright awkward. The former given to Ma, especially in the last days we shared on earth and the latter to my son, who as a small child would hold his arms firmly down his side-body and walk stoically into my open appendages. His adult embrace is feather-light, as if I’m a delicate flower. Thankfully he married a sweet huggy girl, so she more than makes up for his lack of enthusiasm. Her hugs remind me of Ma and my sister-in-law, who understands fully the meaning and power of a good old bear hug.
On the last day of work at the agency office downtown we were testing the software program we were going to be using to stay connected while working remotely. Half the crew was already working from home and the rest of us were still in a state of denial, clinging to our desks and computer screens, but not each other. Three of us gathered loosely around my computer – already starting to employ some form of physical distancing, although no one was using that terminology yet. We were going around the virtual room, doing an emotional check to see how everyone was faring. We didn’t talk about work. We talked about what really mattered – how everyone was feeling.
When it came time for my young colleague to share her thoughts and feelings, she said she felt confused and then she burst into tears. My interaction with her to that point had always been professional yet friendly, reserved and respectful. We both lean to the shier side of the spectrum, so her heart-rendering cry disarmed me at first, then took my breath away and touched my heart. Dead silence enveloped the room, took over the space. The virtual meeting came to a deafening halt.
And that’s when I took her in my arms and held her, hugged her and whispered that everything would be okay. Of course I had no evidence of this. No crystal ball or clairvoyant talent revealing that brighter days were ahead. I too was confused, lost, anxious, terrified, angry. But I’m old enough to be her mother, and with that age has come the wisdom to know the healing power of human touch and loving-kindness, especially in times of acute stress. She couldn’t be with her own mom, who lives in another province, so I would be her surrogate in that moment. I would want this for my own daughters.
So here’s the thing about this hug. This beautiful, creative, talented girl had been off work for a week, horribly sick with the flu and all the usual crap that the flu brings, including a fever. I knew this, and for a brief nanosecond, as the monster-word Covid-19 flooded my troubled mind, I hesitated. Then I thought, fuck it, and went in for the hug. I held her while she shed her tears into my fragile shoulders. They weren’t particular sturdy at that moment, but they were all I had to offer. My own fragility, my vulnerable humanness.
That evening I shared this story with one of my daughters, who was already in self-isolation by then, and she expressed what most sensible and concerned family members would, “you shouldn’t have done that.” And in the perfect 20-20 advantage of hindsight, I guess she was right.
But that wasn’t my concern at the time. My compassion muscle was bursting through my chest. And that mattered more to me. It mattered that I offered comfort. It mattered that I extended kindness. It mattered that I expressed love. I didn’t think of the risk. Instead I acted instinctively. Like a mother. Like my mother would have done. Like Paul McCartney’s mother Mary. Like all the mothers I know would have done.
And today I ponder, what did Jesus do? He opened his arms and went in for the hug.
Footnote: Everyone is well physically – all of my colleagues, my family, my friends, my friends of friends – near and far. She was the last person I have hugged. Let me say that again, the last person I have hugged. Would I do it again? Truth is, if it happened today, I don’t know. So much has exponentially changed in such a short time. Not sure my instinct to comfort would kick in so quickly today, unless it was my own child of course. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been staying home, practicing physical distancing, taking care of things, washing my hands raw. I’m still anxious, confused, terrified at times, but I’m also hopeful. I saw a rainbow last week. It was the kind that arches the sky fully – in all kinds of grandstanding, show-offy, blazing glory. It literally brought me to tears. Oh, how I wept at the divine promise in those colours.
Remembering all the times we held each other close…