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By Euan Thomson in All Sorts

on the importance of physical contact for our well-being

It was good to return to church on Pentecost Sunday, another sign that New Zealand is winning the battle against Covid 19, but as we had been warned, we weren’t returning to “Normal”. It was very strange not to be singing together and even stranger to be maintaining some semblance of physical distancing, not to be shaking hands or embracing after such a long time apart. It was a reminder of how important physical contact is for most people.
Since we went into Lockdown I’ve been maintaining friendships through phone calls, emails and Zoom. Imagine how isolated we would have been without phones and computers. They have been a Godsend. Despite them we have all missed connecting in person with our friends and family, particularly those grandparents who have been kept in a separate bubble for the good of their health. They have so missed the ability to give their grandchildren a hug. One grandfather I know burst into tears when he was telling me of a visit by his granddaughters who were only allowed to wave to him at the window. It hurt.
Those of us who have lost a partner really value the embrace of a friend or relative. Gay men are valuable in this respect. We can hug a woman without there being any complications. I think it was something the old ladies at Glenaven looked forward to each Sunday morning. I know my mother made sure she always got a kiss from Malcolm and me whenever we visited. However, it was not always like that.
My brother recently revealed that our parents had never once told him that they loved him. Perhaps they didn’t think they needed to since all three of us children knew that we were greatly loved, but clearly it mattered to him. In their defence I would suggest that they were the children of Victorian parents and, in Dad’s case, he was raised by his father and grandfather after his mother died in the 1918 influenza epidemic leaving four children aged under seven. Hugging was probably not usual in their household and it wasn’t in ours.
In 1979, Malcolm and I were travelling in Italy where I was particularly impressed by the comfortable intimacy of family groups, particularly the way that fathers embraced their sons. That was something I hadn’t personally experienced with my dad. In fact I could remember the last occasion when he had held me in his arms; when I was thirteen years old and delirious with a fever he was restraining me from climbing up the bedroom wall. It was so unusual that it made an impression on me despite my delirium. After Italy I decided I would like to initiate more physical intimacy with my family so, when a year later, we were flying in to Dunedin airport, I was preparing myself to greet Dad with a hug. There being no air bridges at that time we could see our families lined up outside the terminal building on the edge of the tarmac. As we disembarked I could see Dad striding past the barrier and, when he reached us, he embraced me in a warm welcome home. From that moment, whenever we met, we always gave each other a good hug.
It definitely seems that hugs are therapeutic. At a Gay Pride parade in Pittsburgh in the USA, a man wearing a T-shirt offering Free Dad Hugs was embraced by over 700 people in little more than two hours, with many people bursting into tears as they remembered their alienation from their own fathers. Would Jesus have worn that T-shirt if he had been there?
We are now in Covid 19 Level One, which means that we can again gather at church on Sunday mornings, but we are still being encouraged to maintain physical distancing, so does that mean we shouldn’t hug or shake hands? I guess that’s a judgement we will each make for ourselves. At least we’ll be able to sing, Right now I feel like hugging everyone to celebrate the news that we have now no cases of Covid 19 in New Zealand. Halleluiah!
Euan Thomson