Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Freely Giving Hugs

Today is my dad's birthday, and if you recall, yesterday was my mom's. She isn't a day older, but a couple years younger, so it isn't like she robbed the cradle or nothing. Not like me. Doug is 14 months younger than I am. Whooo Doggie! There should be laws against this kind of thing.

My initial goal for today's entry was to go on a complete raving lunatic rant about the unemployment "department of education and training" system... I think I'll save that for later though.

This entry, I'd like to talk about Wil Wheaton's entry for last night.

In case you don't feel like following the link, in a nutshell here's the synopsis. Wil was in traffic and looked over to see a young girl on the phone in her car, visibly upset, and arguing with someone. He was overwhelmed by her sadness, and also taken aback that we as a species are detached from one another in such a profound way. We see each other, we never speak; we are aware of another's pain, but rarely if ever do we reach out and ask if there is anything we can do to help.

All this hit him like a ton of bricks, and he sat there and cried. This traffic light, this moment, a metaphor for life. And I thought this was one of the better entries he's done in months... instead of sucking up to Michael Moore or detailing how no one wants him to act in anything, he really pulled together a great observational entry. The comments below the entry are mostly decent, but even there, you'll see people are just reacting like idiots, the way we always do.

I recalled the summer trip we took to Arizona. Geoff's first plane trip, we're going to the Super Desert to have fun with Doug and Jessie, who have been on the road for the better part of two weeks. We'll see them in just a couple hours. I'm thrilled to death to be going... and we're on the plane, waiting as passengers board. Southwest airlines has a no-seat assignment policy, so in a row of three seats, when there are two of you traveling, it's an interesting process as to who will sit next to you.

Instead of a ticket processing predestination, where the a credit card purchase by phone, or a travel agent, or through the web, will be the person next to you, the people come on board and size you up... deciding if you'll be the lucky neighbor for that flight. I know people were looking at me, fat chick with hyper little boy, and continuing right along... eventually, there was one seat left.

A girl got on the plane, looking as if she was running late. She was wearing brown corduroy hip huggers, an indian shirt, and mock bierkenstock sandals. She carried a bed pillow with a worn pillowcase that used to be purple but was now a very light pink. Our row was the only location where she could sit.

She sat next to me, I scootched my butt over so she could feel around for her seat belt. We didn't make eye contact, although I tried, and I said hello as she sat down. Geoff was busy playing with Grandma, so he didn't say anything or start in with his litany of personal questions like "what's your dog's name?" "what's your middle name?" etc.

The girl sat quietly, and then pulled her knees up to her chest, and burrowed her face in the pillow and softly sobbed.

Initially I'm sitting there thinking 'Crap on a cracker, I have to deal with some hippie chick weeping the whole way to Kansas City?' but I checked myself. The plane wasn't going anywhere yet... we sat and sat... and I did what I think Wil Wheaton would have been proud of... what he wishes he could probably do.

Wil said at the end of his entry: "I wonder how different the world would be if we made an effort to roll down our metaphorical windows and say hello more often."

Well, I did just that. I lowered my metaphorical window. I turned to her, and I said, "Baby, you look like you could use a hug," and I put my right arm over her shoulder and wrapped my left arm around her knees and her pillow. She cried heavily for a minute or so, felt longer... I didn't really know what to do or say. She looked as if she were 20 or 22, not at all old, not at all young. And I think at 22 I knew exactly how she felt. Whatever was wrong, I knew it. I'd been there. And I wished then that some old fat stranger had reached out and hugged me... I brushed her long blonde hair with my fingers, and she wiped her tears on her pillowcase. She said thank you, and pulled back from the hug.

I patted her shoulder a few times, and I felt sort of okay about just hugging someone, and sort of weirded out. What did I just do? I'm a mom with a 4 year old... I'm on vacation. I don't pick up hitch hikers, I don't smoke weed offered to me by strangers at concerts (don't do it at all as a matter of fact), I don't make prank phone calls, I don't walk up to strangers and ask them if they have a relationship with ourlordnsavior Jesus.

I'm reserved. When I was 22, perhaps not... but I'm a lot wiser, and a tad more careful about dealing with strangers. She, was like I was.

And she was thankful. I asked her if she was okay. She put her feet down on the floor, I noticed a pretty silver toe ring on her "index" toe, with a pretty turquoise and red stone in the middle. I liked this girl. She was very vulnerable, but she looked smart. She was sad, but looked like she'd be fine. She told me that she lives near Lake Tahoe, and was home for a few weeks to visit her family.

"I've lived away from home since I was 16, I've lived all over the country. I've traveled everywhere. And saying goodbye to them is still the hardest thing I ever have to do. I love living far away from them, I love being out in the country... but I wish that I was close enough to drive over on a Sunday afternoon and say hi."

Homesickness. Family Ties. The lure of the open road and adventures aplenty vs. the comfort of family and familiarity of the hearth. I sound like Professor Paul Borgman, doing his lecture on Ulysses.

We talked a lot about our similar backgrounds. I told her that it doesn't get any easier when you get older, that there is still a sadness when you drive or fly away from family. They can drive you nuts-o, make you angry, crazy and old before your time, but they are yours as much as the apartment you live in far away is yours. Enjoy them both. Revel in them. Pray for them. Your life where you are, fully grounded in you and your life in them, fully grounded as a sister or daughter of another person.

We shared our grapes and blueberries, and it was a good flight. At the end, Geoff and I got up to change flights to continue to Phoenix. She was flying through to Sacramento where she'd "deplane" as they say in the aviation industry, where her boyfriend was meeting her. By ground they'd travel the rest of the way to where home was for her, with him and with their friends, their community... their lives. I looked back over my shoulder and she'd spread across to the window where Geoff had been sitting, had her knees curled up to her chest in the position she was in when I hugged her, the only thing that was different was there were no tears running down her tan face.

Have you seen the video for the Dave Matthews Band song "Everyday"? It is a stupid song, I don't like it. I don't like much that is on the new album, but ... the video makes the song so much better, and I smile from ear to ear when I see it.

Essentially, there is this heavy guy wearing a red T-shirt, ugly eyewear and a weird hat. He is walking around town as the song plays in the background, approaching people and doing that universal gesture for "How 'bout a hug?"

You know the gesture. Eye contact, head kind of tilted to the side, arms open, palms exposed, shoulders give a little upward heft. How 'bout a hug?

People just look at him, walk the other way. He is undeterred. He approaches tons of people, flagging them down. Doing his gesture. Finally, someone hugs him.

Then someone else.

Then, fewer and fewer people are shunning the hug. They're hugging the guy, exuberantly! Heck, they are even hugging each other. He's a sensation sweeping the city... everyone doing the "How 'bout a hug" shrug.

Blue Man Group and Hailey Eisenberg hug him. Men hug him. Women hug him. He walks into Dave's studio where the band is playing, and hugs the band. They hug each other. Everyone is smilin'. Everyone is happy.

Hugging Guy is getting covered by the local morning news program and does a walk-on to give the anchor people hugs. I think he gets Conan O'Brien to hug him too.

At the end of the video, he goes to his apartment alone. He takes off his hat and glasses, gets under the covers and sighs. Goodnight, Hugging Guy!

All in a day's work.

What's your day's work going to be? Will you have an opportunity to lower a metaphorical window? Will you add some more mortar to your metaphorical brick wall?

"All you need is
All you want is
All you need is love.
Up from the bottom, everyday
Up to the top love, everyday
Pick me up love
Lift me up love
Pick me up love

Like I said. The song is kind of lame... but the video has purpose. Funny how the MTV changes perception, makes that which is banal interesting, that which is interesting art, that which is decent somewhat unnerving and confusing.

My son's in the sink in the kitchen. Sounds like he's trying to do dishes. Better go give him a hand.

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