A hug overcomes all boundaries. It speaks words within the mind that cannot be spoken. UnknownAs I left the building Monday evening, I stopped on the fourth floor of the shelter where I work to deliver a Christmas WishList gift that had not yet been received.
I'd run into "Mike" on the elevator earlier that day. "Did you fill in a Christmas Wish?" I'd asked him as we rode up from the first floor together.
He stooped over his walker, his toothless grin punctuated with a few widely spaced tobacco stained teeth. His blue eyes looked at me then looked at the ground. "Yeah. But once again. I got nothing."
I was surprised. It was a stellar year for the WishList, a project operated by a church group here in the city. Volunteers come in before Christmas, interview clients and then post their stories and Christmas Wishes online at www.homelesspartners.com . When I'd checked on Christmas Eve there were very few unsponsored gifts. Those that hadn't been sponsored, we'd made arrangements to ensure the individuals received a gift.
"Let me check into it," I told him.
He eyed me sceptically before getting off on the third floor where he would spend the day in Day Sleep -- sleeping accommodation for those who worked nights or had medical permission to rest during the day.
I checked. He'd been sponsored and his gift had arrived. He'd misunderstood the process of claiming it and it had been put into general donations.
At the end of the day I stopped off on the 4th floor, one of two Transitional Housing floors in the building. Men and women who are moving forward in their plans to reclaim independent living, have a permanent bed as they gather their resources to move out. Mike's health and age made it difficult for him to move on. His bed was permanent for as long as he needed it. I found Mike chatting with a group of fellow residents. I handed him the envelope containing the gift card to a local store.
He looked surprised. Shocked almost.
He stared at the envelope. His blue eyes looked into mine. "Thank you Ms Gallagher," he said. "I didn't expect this."
"Expect the unexpected and you'll never be disappointed," I told him with a smile. "Can I give you a hug?" I asked.
He smiled his toothy grin. "I'd like that even better than the gift," he replied.
I hugged him and turned to leave. Another client sat waiting for me in his wheelchair . "Can I talk to you for a minute please?" he asked.
That minute turned to twenty. He was upset. Angry. Disappointed. Feeling defeated. Something had happened that highlighted the frailty of the human condition and our inability to always be consistent in our service delivery model.
He vented and spewed, and through it all I heard his frustration. His sadness. His hurt at the unfairness of it all. Of life. Of being homeless. Of being poor. I heard his anger with himself. With his condition. His temporary placement in a wheelchair after a fall badly bruised both his knees.
"I wasn't drinking," he said. "Honest."
"You don't have to defend yourself," I replied. "I'm so sorry this happened to you."
I asked him what I could do to help resolve the situation that had caused him so much anger. "There's nothing anyone can do," he said. "I should never have trusted someone else. I should have just listened to myself."
"I'd still like to help," I replied.
He shook his head. "It's too late. The damage is done."
"Can I have two days to see what we can do to resolve this for you?" I asked.
He sighed. "Sure. Why not."
"In the meantime, can I give you a hug?"
He looked at me surprised. "That would be better than anything," he replied.
A simple gesture of connection. Caring. Touch.
Later that evening, I received an email from a staff member informing me he'd had a long chat with the client in the wheelchair. "We've found a solution," he said. "Just wanted to let you know, everything's okay."
Regardless of the outcome, the hug still stands. A simple gesture of connection. Caring. Touch.
Last Christmas my eldest daughter, Alexis, was one of the volunteers interviewing clients for the WishList. An elderly gentleman sat down to be interviewed and when asked, "What would lift your spirits this Christmas?" he replied, "A hug."
Alexis stood up and gave him one and he began to cry.
Living in Vancouver, she's taken to offering individuals on the street hugs. She's made them cry. She's cried herself.
A simple gesture of affection. Caring. Touch.
Heart to heart.
A reminder that we are all connected.
And sometimes, all it takes to connect in a heartfelt way with another is to offer them a hug.
Try it today. Offer a hug when least expected and surprise yourself.
You'll be amazed by the results.