Confessions of a Hugger

COVID-19 has me all up in my feelings.

April 15, 2020

I am heartbroken for the world, and I am grieving. I am mourning. I am grieving for the loss of life and also for a lost way of life -- potentially for the next few months or maybe years -- with no travel, no museums, no cafes, no libraries, no people. What I love about the city is the people. I do not want to go out into an empty city. While I realize that it is a privilege to be able to stay in my house, as long as I stay here, I am not confronted with the overwhelming sadness of this emptiness.

A city empty of her people in public spaces is a black hole through my heart. Like many, I came to the city for the people. I love people and I love to be in crowded spaces with people -- a museum show that is packed with all of us experiencing an amazing painting together; a cafe abuzz with thinking, talking, writing, being in a space together. A library filled with people all working hard. A class filled with students piled one on top of the other -- giggling, sharing stories, drinks, snacks, sharing themselves with one another. Will we ever share in the same way? What is the psychological damage that we are doing to ourselves through social distancing? It is painful to witness. I think that is why I can’t go out, even though we are allowed to go to the grocery store or out for a socially distanced walk or run. I can’t go out into a city where I can't be together with people. The very thought of it fills me with overwhelming sadness, and I have to choke back the tears.

The last time I left the house was on Thursday, March 12, and I walked to and from my office because I had realized that the bus was a hotbed of potential virus with several stops in the medical district. I saw no one in my office that day and held several virtual meetings and then walked home. Alone and lonely. I am not lonely in my house with my son, husband and cousin. It feels like we are all here and all going through this together. We have our spaces. We have our meals together. We have our time together. I do not feel the same desolate isolation in my home that I felt when I was out in the city.

If I were to leave my house, I don't trust people not to touch me and, now that I think about it, I probably don't trust myself not to touch them. I am someone who hugs everyone, and it is so hard for me to see people I know and not immediately want to hug them.

I am a really big hugger. And this virus has put a halt to 99.9 percent of my hugging. I hug people on the street, in stores, at the beginning of meetings, at the close of meetings, in parks, cafes, libraries, restaurants, museums, at the theater. I am not a hand shaker. I am also not a cheek kisser. I am a hugger.

We will get through this. But we don't know what the other side of “this” looks like. Will every hug be accompanied by a hesitation, a fear or will all of my hugs be overlong and somewhat desperate as I try to take advantage of a period when I can hug again? Will we live in anticipation of the next global pandemic? Just as Sept. 11 irrevocably changed us forever and we could never again look at a skyscraper without wondering if this tower would one day fall: Would we be in it when it fell, or perhaps our loved ones or our neighbors? And now it is the hug that has become verboten and will forever going forward be filled with uncertainty.

I let out a big sigh as I just read through this and realized that I will definitely need to overhug once this has passed (will it pass?). All of you who have met me or know me and who are reading this will likely remember a hug we have shared. Next time I see you and hug you, please bear with me as I learn to hug again with abandon.

Signed, the hugger who is missing all the hugs and who hopes to one day hug again.


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