Get High on Life

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 5, 1998

By Harold Keller / L’Observateur / August 5, 1998

A bumper sticker that carries a powerful message and that has been around for many years reads: “Hugs, Not Drugs.”A few years ago, I heard a motivational speaker say that a hug is a perfect present because it fits all sizes and if you return it, the giver is never offended. I’m classified as a hugger.Last Saturday night, as I entered a drug rehabilitation center, one of the clinets said, “Here comes Dr. Love.” Smiling, I asked why he said that?”Because you love to love people,” he answered.

I wish that was true but, to be perfectly honest, I have a hard time with many people. The one group I never have trouble loving is the people indrug rehab centers.

For the past four and a half years, I’ve visited this certain center every weekend. The facility can handle up to 65 men and, with few exceptions,it’s filled to capacity every week. It is a 28-day program. Every week Imeet a few new men as they replace those who have been discharged.

Before the meeting ever starts, I hug every man in the place. Most of thesemen are hurting and crying out for love, so hugging them is easy. As a rule,they receive the hug and return it with godly affection. Over the years,maybe only four or five men have refused the hug.

That was the case Saturday before last. At the end of my hugging session,one man remained seated and as I put out my hand, I said, “Stand up and give me a hug.” “No thanks!” he said. “I’ll shake hands, but I don’t let anyman hug me.” “I can handle that,” I replied, and we shook hands.After the meeting, some of the men gathered around for an extra hug. Ofcourse, the man that refused the hug just went about his business – not even a handshake to say goodbye.

This past Saturday, I returned, as usual, and went around the room hugging everybody. When I approached the man who refused to hug the week before,he stood up and gave me a half-hearted hug, which surprised me.

The meeting went on for about two hours and at the end I asked if anyone had any resentments or had anything to say. The same man raised his handand said, “Last Saturday night, I didn’t sleep at all. I was mad at myselffor rejecting your hug. I felt as though I had cheated myself. I couldn’twait for the week to pass so I could ask you to forgive me. If it’s OK withyou, I would like to come forward to have my last week’s hug right now.”In front of everyone, he came forward. We hugged and the men gave him astanding ovation. One client said, “Man, that’s deep!” Another said, “That’spowerful!” After the meeting, as we visited, I found out that he was 53 years old.

Being curious, I asked if he ever got a hug in his life. “Yeah,” he answered.”When I was 6 years old, my father hugged me as a goodbye present. Neversaw him again for many years. It’s been hard for me to hug ever sincethen,” he continued.

It had been 47 years since his last hug. I thank God that He allowed me tobe the one to break the hug-less streak of that grown man with a childhood hurt.

Hugs, like anything else, can be taken for granted. I hope that I neverunderestimate the power of a hug.

Harold Keller is a regular columnist for L’Observateur.

Copyright © 1998, Wick Communications, Inc.

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