From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

What Color Is a Hug?

One touch is worth ten thousand words.

Harold Bloomfield

When my youngest daughter, Bernadette, was 10 years old, I found myself very worried about her. The last four years had been difficult ones for our family. Bernadette was especially close to her grandparents, who doted on her. One by one, they had died, in a short period of time.

A relentless series of losses like that is hard on anyone, especially a child. But it was particularly hard on Bernadette because of her sensitive and loving nature. By the time she was 10, she was immersed in what I could only call depression. For nearly a year, she rarely smiled. She seemed to just go through the motions of living. Her trademark sparkle dimmed drastically.

I didn’t know what to do. Bernadette could tell I was worried about her, and that seemed to increase the burden she carried. One day after she’d left for school, I sat in the family room in an overstuffed chair. Our family had been big on hugs. As a child, my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles were all quick to pull us kids into a warm embrace. Ever since I’d left home, whenever problems weighed on me, I visualized myself in my dad’s lap, settling into his embrace. “Oh, Dad,” I murmured to my missing parent, “what can I do to help Bernadette?”

I almost laughed out loud when it struck me. Recently, I’d been reading about the therapeutic effects of hugs. Could it be that “hug therapy” would do my daughter some good?

Not knowing what else to try, I resolved to hug her as often as I could, without making it seem premeditated.

Slowly, over the next weeks, Bernadette grew more cheerful and relaxed. Smiles appeared with increasing frequency—the genuine kind that animated her eyes as well as her mouth. She worked and played with heightened enthusiasm. Within a few months, the frequent, heartfelt hugs had conquered the gloom.

I never told Bernadette about my strategy. But she clearly recognized how important the hugs had been. Whenever she felt troubled, uncertain or just a little “down,” she asked me for a hug. Or when she noticed that I was sad or tense, she would say, “You look like you could use a hug.” The darned things turned out to be habit-forming!

The years passed. Hugging for us had become such an easy comfort that I never expected it to become a problem. But at some time during her months of college selection, she and I both realized that we were certainly facing a period of withdrawal—especially since her college choice was 1,700 miles away.

We celebrated my birthday a week before Bernadette was to leave for college. A week earlier, she had told me excitedly that she’d thought of a great idea for a gift. She embarked on mysterious shopping expeditions and periodically disappeared into her bedroom to work on her creation.

On the day itself, she presented me with a beautifully wrapped package. Somewhat nervously, she said she hoped I didn’t think it was silly.

I opened the accompanying envelope and found a photocopy of a story, which she told me to read aloud. “The Hugging Judge” had appeared in the original Chicken Soup for the Soul. Bernadette listened as I read about Lee Shapiro, a retired judge who offered hugs to everyone who seemed to need one—a harried bus driver, a harassed meter maid. He created a Hugger Kit containing little stick-on hearts that he could offer strangers in exchange for a hug. Ultimately, he faced a personal test when a friend took him to a home for the disabled, where he found people in desperate need of hugs. At the end of that sobering day, he was faced with an unfortunate man who could do nothing but sit and drool. After the judge forced himself to embrace this solitary person, the patient smiled for the first time in 23 years. The story ended with “How simple it is to make a difference in the life of others.”

Deeply moved, I tore the wrapping paper from the gift itself. Tears coursed down my cheeks. Inside was a tall, clear canister decorated with the glittering label “Hugs,” and packed with miniature, hand-sewn, heart-shaped pillows.

Bernadette is far away now, but every time I look at that canister of hearts, I feel as if she’s just hugged me again.

Some families leave future generations a legacy of wealth or fame. But I remember the importance of my own father’s hugs, and I feel that if I can pass along to future generations this simple act of love and acceptance, our family will be blessed indeed.

Loretta Hall

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