Get High On Life: Never underestimate a hug

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 30, 2002


A bumper sticker that carries a powerful message and that has been around for many years reads: “Hugs, Not Drugs.”

A few weeks 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.

I’ll never forget one particular incident that happened a few years ago as I entered a drug rehabilitation center. One of the clients 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 in drug rehab centers.

For the past eight and a half years, I’ve visited this certain center every weekend. The facility can handle up to 40 men and, with a few exceptions, it’s filled to capacity every week. It is a 28-day program. Every week, I meet 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 these men 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.

Such was the case one particular Saturday as I approached this man during my hugging session. He 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 any man 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. Of course, the man that refused the hug just went about his business – not even a handshake to say good-bye.

The next week I returned and, as usual, went around the room hugging everybody. When I approached the man who refused to hug me 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 comments. The same man raised his hand and said, “Last Saturday night, I didn’t sleep at all. I was mad at myself for rejecting your hug. I felt as though I had cheated myself. I couldn’t wait for the week to pass so I could ask you to forgive me. If it’s OK with you, I would like to have my last week’s hug right now.” In front of everyone, he came forward. We hugged and the men gave him a standing ovation. One client said, “Man, that’s deep!” Another said, “That’s powerful!”

As we visited after the meeting, 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 good-bye present. Never saw him again for many years. It’s been hard for me to hug ever since then,” he continued.

It had been 47 years since his last hug. I thank God that He allowed me to be 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 never underestimate the power of a hug.

HAROLD KELLER writes this column as part of his affiliation with the Get High on Life religious motivational group. Call him at (985) 652-8477.