Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Hug a Stranger? Yeah, right...

I don’t mind hugging.

I like to hug and be hugged. My hugs, like my hair-dos and shoe styles, have evolved.

Kid hugs meant hugging with no inhibition. I took hold and hung on to my Mama or Daddy’s neck, knowing that in their arms I found the safest place possible.

Teenage hugs meant either obligation, friendship or possibility. Obligation hugs were half-hearted attempts to appease any relative’s wish to give me some good ‘ole family loving. Yep, I grew up in Texas. Friendship hugs were soft embraces between my two best girlfriends and me. Those hugs said, “Don’t worry, he might ask you,” “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,” or “Yay! He asked you!” Possibility hugs were tentative with a great deal of emotion attached. These hugs were explorations of what might be and rehearsals for what never came.

Adult hugs are even more complex and varied. When I hug my husband, it is love, friendship and Oh baby! all mixed in one. When I hug my boy, it is all tenderness and even captivity. I know that hugging him will evolve too. So while he enters my arms freely, I enjoy every moment, remembering the feel of his back with my hands and the smell of his hair and neck.

I love hugging my woman friends, showing them that I NEED them in my life. The older I get, the more I know that connecting to other people is vital, like, well…air.

The side hug entered my life as a teacher. Hugging students can be dangerous in this world of evil and deceit. It’s just how it is. So, the side hug. It is also part of church life. I don’t full on hug men; no need unless I am related to them or they are husbands of my best friends. But side hugging is a way to say “Hey I like you,” with nothing else whispered.

So all this to say, I don’t mind hugging. I am all for it.

But at Thanksgiving, my dear brother Phil suggested I do something I have rarely done. Hug a stranger.

We, nine of us, sat around the Thanksgiving table and ate our turkey and told funny stories. Phil likes to do things to give holidays special meanings. Last year, we all were given verses to read and then we toasted our thanks. This year, we answered questions like “I am thankful for my parents because…” After everyone had answered, we all toasted our parents. Pretty cool. At times, very moving.

When we finished going around the table several times, he added, “And I have one more suggestion for you. In the next 24 hours, hug a stranger.”

He told us that we each need human contact. We need hugs. Too many people go without.

I registered my objections, the biggest being: What if the stranger happens to be a serial killer who is waiting to kill the next stranger who asks for a hug? You get my point.

Phil said, “This is just a suggestion. There will be no hugging police following you.”

I tried to dismiss it. Silly brother. Hugs are for family.

But I couldn’t. That sillier Holy Spirit kept bringing it to mind. When I went to a movie theater later that day, I looked around and thought I might go for a teenage girl who was about to clean our theater. I didn’t. The crowd around me made that impossible. Yep, that sounds good enough. Outside the movie theater I saw an old woman with her husband. But it was cold. Yep, too cold. That’s the ticket.

The next day John, Noah and I went to Fuddruckers to eat lunch before doing some shopping. We were eating burgers and chatting and John noticed that a man next to us was wearing a firearm. (This is legal in Colorado.) I immediately dismissed the armed man from possible hugging for obvious reasons. Remember my objection?

But God kept turning my head to a table near the corner of the restaurant. Two women, probably in their fifties, were enjoying a wonderful visit and lunch. They ate and laughed. Then laughed and ate. One of them was in a wheelchair and couldn’t feed herself for some reason. The other woman obliged and fed her friend a bite and then herself. Then of course, they’d talk and giggle.

It moved me. I sensed no obligation to serve. I sensed no resentment or self pity. Just two girlfriends, having a good time. Okay, God, I said. But which one?

When one friend got up to go get a carry out container, I excused myself and went to the counter, too. When she got her styrofoam dish, I fumbled out words.

“I couldn’t help but notice how you are serving your friend. It is really moving to me.”

“Well, thank you. We’ve been friends for thirty-five years.” Her smile filled up her face.

“Can I give you a hug? I appreciate seeing service in action like that.” My eyes were filling, despite myself.

“I would love a hug!” She said.

We embraced. A simple gesture. She thanked me and we said our good-byes. I went back to my table and John and Noah were standing ready to go. As we walked out, I looked back to the women. They were staring at me, both smiling, and my "huggee" waved
at me.

I like hugging. And maybe like my hair-dos and my shoe styles, my hugs will continue to evolve. See, I received a greater gift from that woman than she did me. I got the chance to obey a little tug of the Spirit. A chance to take some action, where normally I would dismiss the idea of it as silly and a bit inane.

I still avoid strangers with guns on their hips. A girl has got to have standards. But the next time that silly Spirit moves me, hopefully I will remember the tears that filled my eyes and the smiles that filled their faces.

So now, I spread the challenge. I dare you. Hug a stranger in the next 24 hours. Listen to that silly Spirit.

But avoid men with guns.


Kay Day said...

Geez, Robbie, you made me cry.
I don't know. I've barely evolved to the hug my friends stage, but I'll keep an ear out...

Michele Cushatt said...

beautiful, robbie. but i'm crying like kay. now i need a hug.

ChicagoGirl said...

But what if I want to hug a man with a gun?

Robbie Iobst said...

Susy, No man with a gun is going to mess with you. :0) Hug away, my friend! :0)

Ralph said...

Susy do you want to hug a man with a gun or are you just wanting to ask that age old question?

Robbie Iobst said...

Susy, Ralph is an old friend...you gotta laugh!

ChicagoGirl said...

I am laughing....and blushing....

Momstheword said...

Great blog! Hugs are free at nursing homes. My family (parents, siblings) were not great huggers. I have learned to hug, mostly old people :) Some of the men at church hug but they do the side hug, shoulder pat thing. Some kids that have grown up and moved away still hug me tight whenever they see me. Oh, well! We can live with it, aye, Robbie? :) It is a good thing.

Jan Parrish said...

I think I'd better not hug anyone until I get over this bug. Just came on all the sudden today.

I love this idea though. I'll be thinking about it.

I love your hugs too.

Bradylake Man said...


As you know I've been hanging around a motorcycle club for a bit. They are Christian--fiercely devoted to Christ--and they are men who have been redeemed from scary, painful and often violent lives. In the MC world brothers often greet each other with a kiss; on the lips or on the cheek--but a kiss. You know--just like Paul suggested in the NT? It is a raw & bare communication of love, respect and devotion among men. It is as strange to most of us as middle eastern men walking and holding hands. But in all the years I've walked with Christ and with men's ministry--I've never experienced such devotion among men as I have among these large, tatooed, scary looking men who love Jesus and other bikers so much.

So at Christmas dinner--guess what the next suggestion might be? (smile)

Your brother who loves you...