It’s official. I am now one of those “hugger” people.
I wasn’t a “hugger” for most of my life. Now, it seems, you can’t stop me.
After a meeting with our homeschool certified teacher yesterday, without really thinking about it, I reached over to hug him, and he eagerly accepted it. Jim reminds me of my own grandfather with his gentle demeanor and eyes that sparkle with enthusiasm whenever we mention anything related to reading or writing. This is my second year of working with him and it wasn’t until after my mother died that he asked if he could hug me at the end of one of our consultations, a meeting the other ladies hadn’t been present at. It was only after I turned from our hug yesterday that I saw the stunned look on the other women’s faces. Uh-oh, I realized with a sinking heart, what had I done? Two of these women adamantly refused to call the teacher by his first name although he’d assured us several times we are his contemporaries.
“Call me Jim,” he often said and they’d chuckle nervously at the incongruity of calling a teacher (despite the fact he wasn’t our teacher, but overseer of our teaching) by his first name.
“We couldn’t. You are Mister Whalen to us.”
And there I was, boldly and unabashedly hugging him.
I sensed a palpable discomfort in the air immediately after what must have been my major faux-pax in their eyes.
Ruth nervously fingered the edge of her skirt, looking down at the ground for a moment. One of the other women looked stunned, as if someone had just slapped her.
“Oh, what the heck,” Ruth broke the silence of unease,”I’ll do it too,” and she flung her arm loosely around Jim’s back and gave him a hug. Then Jim swiftly approached each mother, hugging them, including my daughter Elizabeth. Later, on the phone, I apologized for putting her in that position. I knew she wasn’t much of a hugger. She just laughed, remembering the faces of the other two, the women who had insisted on properly maintaining a complete and total professional relationship with this man for the past two years. And I’d blown that “proper” concept all to pieces with a simple hug.
For some inexplicable reason, I am incredibly amused by the incident. Even just five years ago, maybe I, too, would have played the ingenue cowering in the corner, her eyes down in deference to the elder man, hand proferred out coquettishly for a feminine handshake.
I may have been painfully shy for many years, but I never played the genteel lady of decorum very well.
This new ease with hugging began with my husband’s cancer treatment five years ago, but it is only since my mother’s death in November that I have sensed some real changes in me. I am doing things I wouldn’t have thought to do before, either because of a displaced sense of propriety or a natural hesitancy at overstepping bounds. Since my mother’s death on my birthday last year, I have felt she somehow bestowed upon me a real gift; as though her natural curiosity and interest in other people has rubbed off on me. I am doing things I would have only considered but not neccessarily carried out; sending flowers to our favorite nurse and writing notes of encouragement and thank-yous more often. Sending a book to my newphew because it made me think of him. Treating a sister to breakfast. Hugging our certified teacher.
My mother would have loved to be able to do what I am doing: interviewing people for the local newspaper. She thrived on interacting with interesting people. On bus trips she’d start-up conversations with total strangers, something that boggled my mind then, but intrigues me now. She never hesitated to approach a stranger with questions, like I always have. Had, I should say, since I am discovering I now enjoy striking up a conversation. In interviewing people for feature articles I enjoy talking to them about their business and their background, looking for an angle for my article. There has been only one interesting and odd development in my new job of writing feature articles.
I consistently have had to hold myself back from hugging the person of interest after I’ve completed interviews; the woman who runs a second-hand store whose mother is dying in hospice, the father and son team who puffed with pride in their product, the husband and wife business partners who have overcome adversity in facing five floods in four years, the octogenarian with a beautiful smile that lights up the whole room. I want to hug them all.
Instead, I look them in the eye, hold out my hand to shake theirs, and thank them politely for their time. I do know when a hug isn’t appropriate, after all.
And I can play the part of professional writer very well.