Sunday, June 12, 2011
I have worked since I was 15 years old, at so many kinds of jobs. One of the part time jobs I had when I was a teenager, was as an aide in nursing homes. A resident named Mary lived in one of these nursing homes. I still remember her. That was over 30 years ago, but I can still see Mary with the long, single silver braid down her back. Sometimes it doesn't seem that far away in time. This post is for Mary.
I woke up this morning to Baby E's arms tangled up in my hair. He is in our bed. I remember falling asleep to a thunderstorm last night, nothing too noticeable for me, but it must've been for him. Whenever I wake up to his warm body so close to mine, I am grateful for his human touch. Mary often comes to my mind in moments like these--a vision from my past. I hear her voice, "Please? I just want to touch someone! Will you come in here? Please?"
I usually began my shift at the nursing home by catching up on what the last shift had not been able to finish. On this particular day, I had so much work to do that I was starting to feel a little panicked. I had tried to sneak past Mary's room--as I always did when I was rushed-- but it was too late. She had caught sight of my white uniform running past her door. Mary would sit right at the threshold of her room, with the door wide open, in hopes of catching someone to just hug. They didn't even have to hug her back, she'd do it all.
"Be right there, Mary, here I come, just let me put this down," I called out to her. I set down the laundry I had been carrying, and leaned down into her bent form, molded into her chair. She'd hold me in her bird like frame. I could feel her sigh so deeply, with such relief, it would shake her small body. "Bless you, bless you, bless you!" she'd whisper to my cheek. "My pleasure, Mary, you know I love your hugs," I'd smile and gently try to pull away. I'd always try to not look straight into her eyes. I was always caught off guard by the quick way they'd fill with tears.
I think of Mary on this morning, as my youngest lays so close to me. His skin is as smooth as cool water. I think of how she needed touch as much as she needed to eat, be taken care of, be covered with an extra blanket at night. I remember the Sociology 101 Experiment we all read about as freshmen in college. The experiment where infants were separated from their mothers to see if a reduction in human contact stopped the spread of disease. It did, and it did much more than that, too. 75% of the infants separated from their mothers died. This was the beginning of what we now call, "failure to thrive."
There is a pastor in our small town, who stands outside of his church every Sunday morning, giving out hugs to every single person who walks into his service that day. After months of driving past there on a Sunday morning, and seeing this, I decided to call him. Could I come in, I wondered, and ask him why he was so intent on giving everyone who walked past him, a hug? Did he know the entire town called him "the hugging pastor"? I was curious, how did it start?
I told him I'd see some people laugh and try to outmaneuver his hugs. I'd also see see the elderly, or the lonely, just melt into his arms. When I spoke with him, and asked about the reason for his determination to give his hugs out like chocolate kisses, he answered me, "I began doing this on an occasional basis, then one day, an older woman said to me, "you know, pastor, this is the first time someone has touched me all week." My heart went back to "Mary" when he told me this, "just like Mary," I thought.
I remember how my grandmother would comb my curls, singing to me while she took her time curling each strand around her finger, slowly, as if I was the only thing that mattered in her world at that moment. I can still feel her soft hands smoothing my hair, and hear her soft voice singing me her song. The gift of human touch.
To my child that allows me quick grabs of hugs, I take them, to the other two that still bless me with longer, more luxurious basking in their arms, I do. When I run into a friend, or someone from work, I will try to work in a shoulder touch, or a quick rub on the back, or place my hand to rest on their arm for a second. It all matters.
I think of how very fortunate I am, that in my life, in my house, I can hug and be hugged at any time. I have but to step just a few feet in any direction, and I am able to find the human contact I need. I can barely stand the thought of ever reaching a point in my life, where I haven't been touched in a week, haven't felt a soft warm little body on my lap, or had no one in their too quickly growing body laugh and try to out dodge one of my hugs. I cannot imagine a life like that, I am so incredibly lucky to have the life I have now. I welcome every hug, the stickier, the better. I am not one to say, "your hands are dirty, and you might get a spot on my white shirt ," or "I just fixed my hair and you might mess it up."
I remember sitting on a blanket at a soccer game, and my then 3 year old son reaching up to hug me with his blue cotton candy hands, a friend sitting with us cautioned him, "you'll get your mommy's shirt all sticky!" The confident answer that flew out of his mouth made my heart swell, "she loves my hugs, especially when they're blue and sticky!"
Finding Baby E in our bed this morning takes my thoughts back to Mary. I hear her voice, "Please? I just want to touch someone." "Yes, Mary, I'm right here. Let me have one of your hugs, Mary."
On Sundays, I've been running old posts from the first months of my blogging here. This one ran early April 2010. I still think of Mary, and how lucky I am to have more hugs than I can count in a day.