Hugs in the Time of Cholera

by on May 12, 2020 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Joni Halpern

We have just completed our Mother’s Day celebration without the traditional reliance on buying power to attest to our love of the women who have mothered us.  We have sent online deliveries if we could and zoomed ourselves with varied success into the two-dimensional spaces of each other’s screens.  We have texted, phoned, and snail-mailed our greetings.  But we have not been able to hug.

How unexpectedly descriptive is the absence of a hug, for in not being available, it emphasizes the importance of an embrace.  Two arms wrapped around us, pulling us closer to a loving heart, a gesture that could impart power and conflict, for it often occurs between two beings of varying strength.  And yet our surrender to a hug is a relief, a comfort, an admission that we persist in life’s most strenuous endeavors because we are loved.

On the other side of a hug is the fact that we concede our need for others.  Even when the hug is perfunctory, like with my old Aunt Jeannette, a legendary figure in our family who could bury a kid in her bosom, you still know you are connected to the person who hugs you.  It does not even matter if the hugs are of equal strength.  There are often persons we know whose capacity to love is greater than ours, or whose love for us is greater than our own, or greater than our appreciation of them.  Hugs do not have to be equal.  At bottom, they are simply an affirmation that in the arms of someone else, we exist.

The absence of this ability to affirm each other is a much greater loss than all the gifts we could buy each other for Mother’s Day or any other holiday on which we feel obligated to honor each other. But it is a reminder that all those material things aside, the greatest honor we can bestow on one another is to care for each other.  And this capacity has been ebbing in America for quite some time.

We put hearts in our windows and bang pots and pans for our “heroes”  — our first responders, nurses, doctors, grocery clerks and others who keep our lives and our economy running.  But when it comes time to press our public officials to provide a living wage for our low-wage workers, or to give them sick leave or health care, or to reduce the workload medical personnel carry, we whine and cry about our taxpayer dollars, and we blame these very “heroes” for their own workplace problems.

“Take personal responsibility for your own failure,” is our public policy mantra to the low-paid orderlies, caregivers and such.  “You make enough money as it is,” we say to the doctors and the nurses who are chained to a system of remuneration that is the equivalent of piece work, leaving them with so little time they cannot even look up from their computers to meet our eyes, let alone touch our bodies.

We as voters, constituents, and members of the body politic could object, but we don’t.  We don’t really want to know the details of other people’s suffering, except to note it for a moment on social media, click a button and tell ourselves how very much we have done to demonstrate our involvement in mankind.  We might even sing the sufferers a song, make them a dinner.  But when it comes time to fight for better public policy to ease their pain, we pop in our ear buds and lose ourselves in our own problems.

The loss of our ability to show our countrymen and countrywomen we care has been a long time coming.  But the absence of hugs in this pandemic has raised the notion that we may be more alone than ever in this big, brash, sink-or-swim, every-man-for-himself place we call America.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar pujckytipy May 12, 2020 at 12:49 pm

In fact, it’s nice that you care about the people, especially about our fair half. Without exception, all mothers or grandmothers need our care on this beautiful day. I believe that we all should be a little more worried about this and think that they would be pleased to receive a beautiful bouquet and support their psyche in such a difficult time. I myself am a daughter and mother and I understand how important this is. Thank you very much.

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Avatar Joni Halpern May 12, 2020 at 1:41 pm

Very tenderly expressed. Thank you.

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