I believe in hugs. Not one-arm side hugs, or noodle-arm fake hugs. I believe in real, big, tight squeezes. I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering at an orphanage in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and down there, those kids do it right. When this blonde American girl who hardly speaks a word of Portuguese enters those big royal blue gates, and I assure you in the inside is anything but royal, the Brazilian orphans always come running. They’ll literally jump into my arms, or tug on my hands, or wrap their arms around my waist. They know how to hug.
In America we have a standard of personal space that is different from the rest of the world. Mostly we have invisible bubbles around ourselves that keep others out. I am glad when the orphans breech my bubble. I was a snuggly child, and have since grown into an avid hug-giver, which only intensified when I felt the honest clutches of some of the most helpless people on earth. They are only children, hungry for love, who just want to feel someone wrap their arms around them and hold on tight.
As a little girl, I always hoped a knight in shining armor would be the one steal my heart, so you can imagine my surprise when a little seven-year-old Brazilian orphan did the job. His name is Wellington. He is a hugger. I became his friend and have watched him grow. He plays soccer in flip-flops, he loves to get on my shoulders, and he never gets tired of flying kites or of eating Skittles. Whenever I entered the orphanage, we would find each other amid the messy crowd of children and American volunteers. I could hardly say “hello” in his language, but we were friends. I could smile and play his games. I could pick him up and hold him.
On the final day of my most recent trip, the Americans boarded our bus, and the children came outside of the royal blue gates to wave and to watch us leave. When everyone else was in their seats, and it was really time to go, I stood at the open doors of the bus with Wellington wrapped in a hug. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, prying his arms off of my neck. He’s only a little boy and there are many things he does not understand, but I believe Wellington knows that I love him. I placed him on his feet. I pulled my hand out of his tiny grasp. I turned around to go home.
You would think Wellington needed the hugs more than me, but I think we needed them equally. He, along with all of the children there, showed me how a hug is the most natural way we can show others that we care. Good hugs don’t require the giver to speak a certain language, or to be tall, strong, or important. They only require you to be human. I believe that a heartfelt hug can be the beginning of a cure for the lack of love in this world. I have learned that words will often fail, but when we can truly allow ourselves to embrace another person, our message of love cannot fail.