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.
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 shrugs. But he prefers to… appreciate.
And, there is no death, he adds, so, that helps.
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.
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