I was asked recently in an interview why I sign my emails, letters, and blog posts with “big hugs.” As I began to answer the question I became aware that it had touched me. I felt the familiar warmth in my heart and heard a slight crack in my voice. I didn’t realize how deeply the question had impacted me, however, until I felt a tear sliding down my cheek — a graceful reminder of my mom, the significance a hug carries in my heart, and why I choose to share big hugs with those I come in contact with.
Throughout my childhood my mom worked in a series of children’s homes, day-care centers, and schools. Her job was to care for the children, with whom she connected deeply … especially the ones the world had forgotten. My mom was attracted to the misunderstood: the children who were too much trouble for their parents and teachers, the ones given labels and punishments, and those cast aside and given up on by the world. Like the three-legged dog she had rescued before I was born, she held a special place in her heart for the unloved and abandoned.
For me as a child, this was more than a little annoying. Our lives and home were constantly filled with other kids taking the love I believed was meant for me and my sister. I remember wishing, vehemently, that I could just have my mommy all to myself and make these needy beings who squatted in my mom’s heart go away.
Through her illness and death, though, I came to better understand my mom. The part of her that just wanted to be loved joined with the part of me that shared the same desire and, together, we healed.
As I ventured into self-discovery and got to know myself better, I also developed a deep compassion for the life of my mom. The experiences of my life helped me understand the inner workings of a woman who never quite felt loved or understood by her own mother, my grandmother. Grandma was orphaned as a little girl and liked to recount proudly the story of sitting on the floor of the orphanage crying while refusing a doll that was offered to her because, “I wasn’t going to give the world the satisfaction.” Never having felt loved herself, my grandma was unsure how to love her daughter: she refused to hug my mom out of fear that she would hurt her… which, by not holding her, she did.
So my mom dedicated her life to loving other children, to insuring that no child would ever feel the stinging pain of not being held. In a world where work and stuff often take priority over small acts of loving kindness, my mom had a solution — big hugs. At each job she created a ritual for the children she cared for. As they arrived each morning, and before they left each evening, she would give them each a hug. The world might not love them, but she would insure that they knew, each and every day, that she did.
When my mom died, these children, hundreds of them, came to the church to remember her. A woman who was never famous or known outside of her community had so touched the tiny hearts of these children that they overfilled the church and stood outside just to have a chance to say goodbye. As my mom had done so many times in their lives, they wouldn’t let her go home without sharing their love with her.
So today, as you read those words “big hugs,” breathe deeply and take them into your own heart. Allow them to touch the child inside you. Experience them as they are intended, as a gentle expression of love from the grandson of an orphaned little girl who never learned to love … from the son of a woman intent on saving the world one child at a time … from me — the boy whose broken heart was mended, ironically, by the love he found after the passing of his mom. That’s why I say “big hugs:” as a reminder for you … for us all … that we are loved.
Big hugs of love,