On being ... expressive

By Ingrid Sapona

Some people are natural huggers – I’m not. I wish I were because it’s such a simple gesture and yet it reinforces the human connection that I think we all crave. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried harder to hug more – and to be more huggable. Funny thing is, most of my friends are not natural huggers either, so I’m not in too many situations where I can practice. 

My accountant is a natural hugger, as is her whole family. One of the things I love about natural huggers is that they don’t even seem to realize that some of us aren’t natural huggers. As a result, natural huggers don’t hesitate at all. As they head toward you, their arms just naturally spread and as soon as you’re within reach, they clamp their arms around you in a warm embrace.

Non-natural huggers who are making an effort to hug are completely different. They open their arms from a standing still position. This results in awkward, bend-forward-at-the-waist, clasps. (Just picture fourth graders dancing – you know – it always looks like there’s an invisible football wedged between their pelvises.)

Anyway, despite what I may look like, I’m determined to keep trying to become a more natural hugger. I figure human contact is something we can all use more of. (All you non-huggers in my life – and you know who you are – don’t worry. If you want to work on the hugging thing with me, great. If not, I’ll settle for a hearty handshake.)

Between Christmas and New Year’s my sister and I were in Buffalo with Mom. While there, we stopped in to say hello to Tina at her family’s restaurant. Tina (not her real name, of course!) and her husband took over the restaurant from her father, who was a contemporary and friend of my father. Their place reminds me of the restaurant my dad used to own.

I don’t know Tina that well, but I’ve always liked her. Though we’re about the same age, we lived in different school districts and our social circles didn’t overlap. Our paths crossed mainly at church, where our interactions were limited to the usual small talk. Even so, I’ve always felt an affinity toward her and she is one of the few people I’ve kept in touch with from that church.

I wouldn’t describe Tina as outgoing, and I’ll bet she doesn’t think of herself that way. Instead, I see her more like a magnet, drawing people to her with her natural beauty and the sheer warmth of her smile. She also has a way of looking at you while you talk that makes you feel that what you’re saying is inherently interesting to her.

I was reminded of all these things when we dropped in on her in December. But in chatting with her, I was also reminded of another quality of hers that I especially admire: she goes out of her way to say something nice about people and things. In a world where it sometimes feels that you're lucky if you're around people who live by the adage about not saying anything if they don’t have something nice to say, Tina’s words are more than refreshing.  

I first noticed this about her years ago in the things she wrote in a condolence card she sent when my father died. I was moved by both her words and her thoughtfulness. I’ve since noticed it in even the simplest e-mails she dashes off. Mind you, it’s not even the particular words she uses – it’s the fact that she seems to go out of her way to find something nice to say and then she follows through by saying it, rather than merely behaving kindly as a result of the pleasant thought or feeling she might have toward the person.

I definitely think that the way Tina verbalizes her kindness toward others is a gift that comes naturally to her – much the way hugging comes natural to some. After we left the restaurant, I thought a lot about how Tina’s words are powerfully connecting and I realized that along with continuing to practice hugging, I should also work on connecting with people by expressing kind words toward them – and about them – more often.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


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