When the short, old, white guy in a blue jacket drops by the café where I write, like clockwork, a couple of beefy regulars shout, jumping out of their seats, and one-by-one, heave their hulking bodies into his arms for a hug.

Joe holds the tender brutes to his small, sturdy chest, everyone laughs and the room heats up. I’ve been eyeing this hugger for months, I can’t hold back anymore, so I wait my turn in line and put in my request: what’s up with all the hugs?

The all-knowing owner of the café brings us tea and smiles.

I look at Joe, searching. He looks through me.

It is, he says.

Is what? I squint.

What is, is, the owner speaks for his friend. He has hugged Joe for years.

Joe’s eyes shine.

It’s spontaneous. It’s not their bodies, it’s their souls touching mine.

I am irritated and intrigued. I had imagined he was a 12-step superstar, a mafia don or a lion king. I feel a trickling doubt that this guy is for real, and have an increasingly urgent need to know why people hug him and who the freak he is.

I am nothing.

Joe smiles. I don’t.

He says he’s a spiritual being having a human experience, part of the greater whole. He’s not a thing. Just like us.

I am you. I’m hugging me.

i am you smaller

My fire burns. I want to believe him but my attachment, my ego and my outrage hold me back.

What about pain and loss, I ask, what about grief?

If you like, he shrugsBut he prefers to… appreciate.

And, there is no death, he adds, so, that helps.

i am nothing smaller

The owner whoops behind the counter. The joint fills up for lunch. It hits me that I want to tell this self-named average Joe all my worries and fears. I want to tell him that the world is falling apart, people I love are hurting, and my father died last year. I can’t look into his eyes, but suddenly, I yearn for his arms. He asks if I’d like a hug. Despite some manufactured cool, I flood with light.

We stand up in the crowd, and I fall into a warm embrace, a rush of love and the arms of my late Dad, the hugging king. Everyone is happy, Joe speaks softly in my ear, but they don’t know it because they’re distracted. I look around. For one shining moment in the café, everyone hears.

some men are trees 4

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Art for ‘Free Hugs’ by the very excellent David Dixon of Bring Me the Head of David Dixon

Check out Part 2 of this huggy series right here.

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