Is it Now Safe to Hug?

In 1970, Barry and I had the amazing opportunity to meet Leo Buscaglia. We were living in Nashville, Tennessee, where Barry was in his second year of medical school and I was a public health nurse. We were both twenty-three years old. A friend invited us to a party to meet a very important person in her life. This person turned out to be Leo Buscaglia. We had never heard of him before.


Leo was perhaps twenty years older than us. Right away, we could tell there was something very special about this man. The love emanating from him was unlike anything we had ever experienced before. He seemed to know and love each person at the party and also he was hugging them all. We had never before been hugged by anyone other than each other and our parents. Not even our siblings. Believe it or not, in 1970, people in the United States did not hug, except within families. People shook hands in a greeting, but never hugged others.


Upon arriving at the gathering Leo came over to us and gave us a big hug in welcome. It was the most beautiful feeling; one we will never forget.


We moved later that year to Los Angeles and I had the privilege of being Leo’s student for one full year at the University of Southern California, and also, we were his neighbors for two years. We got to know him well and his wonderful hugs were plentiful.


Leo left USC several years after he was my teacher, and he went on to write five books on love. He also lectured to very large audiences of over 10,000 on the importance of love and he included how he loves to hug people. Leo’s hugs caught on and, within a few years, the United States became a hugging country. Not all people, but the majority. In 1993, when Clinton was inaugurated as the 42nd president of the United States, he hugged people during the dance and party that followed. He was the first president to openly hug people so that it was seen on TV. Then, after that, hugs abounded everywhere. Clinical trials showed that hugs were positive to your physical and mental health, and they even suggested that a person should receive and give at least seven hugs in a day for optimum benefit.


Then March 2020, the Center for Disease Control  recommended that all people everywhere stop hugging, except those that live within your home. People stopped hugging!!!  When a friend would meet a friend at a market and the usual greeting would be a hug, now it was just a hello said through a protective mask staying six feet apart. It was worse than stepping back in time a number of decades.


Now people are getting vaccinated and the CDC is recommending that small groups of vaccinated people can be in a room together without a mask. And just recently, if people are vaccinated, they do not need to wear a mask outdoors. I doubt that the CDC is ever going to recommend that people can hug again. And so, this decision is up to all of us.


I feel that hugging is a good thing and I have chosen to start hugging friends again. I am vaccinated, plus I have had the Covid virus. But, before I hug someone, I ask if it is OK with them. Our hugs are genuine and warm, and still we are careful to have our heads turned away from each other, just in case.


I have a dear friend who I have known for over forty years. We were also very close to her husband, who died nine years ago. This friend lives by herself and when the pandemic was announced last year, she took the CDC guidelines very seriously and stayed by herself. I brought her flowers every other week and knocked on the door and left them by her door step. She did not have a husband to comfort her like I did, and I wanted to do all that I could to comfort her while she was totally alone. Then, when she was vaccinated and I was vaccinated, I set up a time and went to her house. She was nervous to have me there, and she had all of the windows and doors open even though it was very cold outside. I told her we were safe, and it was time to start greeting friends again with a hug. She had not been hugged in fourteen months and, when I went to hug her, I could feel the relief within her body. We hugged several more times during my short stay, and she called me right after to tell me how much the hugs meant to her. She told me that she was going to start hugging her other friends if that was alright with them. She sounded happier than I had heard her all year.


The fear of getting or giving Covid-19 has caused many of us to be scared of one another during the time of pandemic. But it is now time, especially if you are fully vaccinated, to reach out to people again and express your love with a warm hug of love and support. And, if your choice is not to get vaccinated, it still may be possible to give and receive hugs. Please follow your heart and common sense. Wearing a mask is always safer. Just be careful to face away from each other and, if you can be outside, even better.


If you feel safe hugging people again, and you get their permission, go ahead and hug, and that act will lift your spirits and theirs, and bring you much needed mental and physical wellbeing. And if you don’t feel safe hugging, you can still give and receive love through your eyes and words.

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