Sometimes Hello Means “How ‘Bout a Hug?”

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I am a hugger.

Growing up, I came from a very affectionate family. Hugs, kisses and ‘I love you”s were given freely and with much care and sincerity. In school, I never understood why others never touched each other much, why boys wrestled when they obviously wanted close contact. It just didn’t make sense to me. As I grew up, I ended up ignoring most social norms involving physical contact. I gave hugs, I kissed cheeks, I told my friends I loved them. As a small child, I became a master of overcoming personal boundaries, a skill I wear with pride.

My friends quickly cottoned on that they could not escape my brand of ecstatic, physical affection. My best friend, who I have known since second grade, had resigned herself to her job as my ‘pillow’. When we were standing around, just talking in a group, I would periodically reach out and hug her, rest my chin on her head (she was very short) and just rest there. She would give me a look, exasperation mixed with fond resignation, and after a few minutes, I would let go. I never did it to the point she had to push me off or became uncomfortable, I just did it for short periods of time. A part of me needed to reaffirm what I’m sure my friends already knew. ‘I’m here, I see you, I care’. When one of my friends was upset, I was the first one to open my arms and let them cry on my shoulder. I would rub their back, rock them back and forth, croon and sooth as best I could. I would listen and sympathize, empathize, give as I could, because to me, it was common sense. I never wanted anyone to be in tears longer than they had too.

So here is the first part of my story.

When I was in high school, I went through a very rough time, dealing with anxiety, random mood swings and horrid migraines. I had to focus on me, which was difficult as I hadn’t really had to before. My friends supported me as best they could, but I could tell none of them were really ready to deal with something like this. We were all in high school and they had their own problems. I didn’t blame them, nor am I ranting. In fact, this story doesn’t have to do with my high school experience at all. It was something that happened, that I never thought about till recently.

One day, when I was walking around town with my friends, I saw a girl, probably two years older than I was, so maybe seventeen, sitting on the sidewalk, head in her hands crying. Without missing a beat, I walked over and asked if she was okay. She began to cry harder, so I helped her up and my friends and I escorted her to a coffee shop nearby, where we all sat down and tried to calm her down. After a few minutes, of her sobbing so much we couldn’t understand a single thing she said, I hugged her and told her “whatever it is, you are strong, you are powerful, you are beautiful. I’m not letting go until you feel better.” I ended up hugging her for more than an hour, by which point most of my friends had to leave. Once the girl had stopped crying, I bought her a hot chocolate and showed her funny pictures on my phone until we were both in stitches. When she finally left, I didn’t know why she had been crying, she didn’t know my name, I didn’t know hers. We gave each other our email addresses and promised to keep in touch.

The second part of this story is about our correspondence.

During this time, I was felt like I was going through school-related hell. I had never liked school to begin with, but all of a sudden it was nigh impossible to get out of bed in the morning. I ended up going to a youth program at the hospital, taking group therapy sessions and learning life skills. Through all of it, one of the things that helped me was emailing with mystery girl, who I nicknamed Xena. We would send emails to each other about our days, instant message and so on. I don’t know how we decided this, but what we talked about was never personal or deep. We focused on the positives, the little things, and if we didn’t have anything going on in our lives that felt positive, we shared hilarious pictures with each other. When I was feeling down in the dumps, I would open the folder of our saved pictures and laugh until my throat was sore. Xena was my rock, reminding me that the world wasn’t all fire and brimstone, that I could still laugh.

Now, the third and final part in my story.

Roughly a week ago, I ran into Xena again. It has been five years, so I almost didn’t recognize her, but she certainly recognized me. She rushed up to me in the supermarket and hugged me, startling my mom and nearly giving me a heart attack. She was all smiles and I couldn’t help but return them, especially considering the last time I had seen her face it had been streaked with tears. Then, I heard a voice say, “Mommy, who’s that?” That voice belonged to a little boy, roughly five years old, standing by their shopping cart, holding the hand of a little girl who was obviously his sister, also roughly five years old.

“This is Kitty,” she told them, (her nickname for me, when we met I was wearing a Hello Kitty t-shirt), and, I swear, until the day I die, I won’t forget what happened next. Both children stared, then walked up to me and hugged my knees, which was they only thing they could reach. Then, they looked up at me with the biggest smiles I have ever seen and said, “thank you for saving us.”

I had never been more shocked in my life or confused in my life.

The day I met Xena, she had been told she was pregnant. It didn’t occur to me until Xena told me, but the street I met her on was the one to the hospital. Xena’s boyfriend, who had gone with her to the appointment, told her the moment they left that they were through and left her there. Xena said she was convinced that her parents would throw her out, that there was no way she raise a child and she was convinced the only option was to get an abortion. She was certain that everyone would abandon her and she was terrified.

Xena told me I saved her children’s lives.

Me coming up to her, hugging her, consoling her when I didn’t even know who she was, gave her the confidence to tell her parents before doing anything rash. Her mother and father were initially very shocked, but then very supportive. They talked to her about all her options, and told her they would help her if she decided to keep the baby. Which she did.

This is obviously not the full story. Xena and I haven’t had much time to catch up yet, though we have planned a time to hang out and spend time with the kids. But what blows my mind is this. She tells me that if I hadn’t hugged her that day, she probably would have turned around and gone straight to an abortion clinic. She says I helped her calm down and realize that this wasn’t the end of the world.

The boy and girl are twins. Their names are Ryan and Sophie, they love chocolate, dinosaurs and Disney movies. Because I decided to hug someone, they are alive.

I feel this is too dramatic, but Xena tells me and them, that if I hadn’t hugged her, taken the time to console her, that she would’ve made what she considers would have been the biggest mistake of her life. To me, it was common sense, but to her, it meant the world.

I suppose the point of my story is this:

If a hug made two of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen able to exist, what else can a hug do?

– Fayth Harbour

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Michael Harrell is a former staff member and current volunteer at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Federal Way, Washington. A blogger by hobby and social media manager by trade, he continues to teach the faith to ninth graders when he's not busy watching movies or theatre. He loves the Seattle Mariners, and his wife wants you to know he's married. You can follow him on Twitter.