May I Have a Hug?

In a big city like D.C. where I spend much of my time, it’s not uncommon for someone who is homeless to stop you and ask for some help. It’s a little more unusual for someone to ask for something that doesn’t involve money.
A couple of weeks ago I was sitting outside a Starbucks at a round cafe table, making a quick list of notes before heading off to an evening meeting. A man with graying black hair, probably in his 60s, scuttled up to the table while I was deep in thought, dressed in a tattered ocean blue T-shirt and ragged khakis. I don’t know how long he was standing there before he politely cleared his throat to get my attention.

“I was wondering if you would be willing to buy me some dinner.”

I apologized that I had to leave in a few minutes and wouldn’t be able to go with him, but pulled out the five dollar bill in my wallet and handed it to him while asking his name.

“My name is John,” he replied. I introduced myself, told him it was a pleasure to make his acquaintance, and pretty much wished him good luck while subconsciously wishing him off.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw him fingering the bill in his hands while I pulled my mess of papers together and stuffed them in my bag.
“Excuse me,” John asked again.
I turned and looked at him expectantly.

“I was wondering if maybe you would give me a hug. I haven’t had one of those in a really long time.”

It was a strange moment, one I felt would look very odd to anyone peering down on us from nearby windows, but I stood up and gave that old man a hug. As soon as I did, I realized that I was hugging a person who was literally no more than skin and bones. I realized I had never hugged a pile of skin and bones before, and I wondered why.
John told me thank you, patted me on the shoulder in a grandfatherly sort of way, told me to “be good” and “stay safe on these streets,” and wandered back down the sidewalk.
Mother Teresa often said that the greatest poverty in this world is not a lack of resources, but the feeling of being unwanted. I can take your money, but I don’t really need it; God can provide money, she would tell visitors. But I would have you reach out and touch one of these dear ones and show them that they are wanted, that they mean something to you.
This understanding is one of the reasons Compassion’s relationship-based child sponsorship model is so powerful. Compassion links sponsors with children in a relationship so that sponsors can build up these little ones and, as so many of us sponsors have found over the years, the kids more than return the favor.
woman stooping over to hug two childrenBut regardless of our financial situation, each of us has the ability to make sure that those around us don’t experience the greatest poverty of all — the poverty of being unwanted.

Yes, kids that live in physical poverty need to be told time and again that they are loved and cherished. But the children we come in contact with each and every day, who live in our neighborhood, on our block, in our house, are just as susceptible to this deepest form of poverty.
I have good news for you, but it comes with a certain level of responsibility. It is fully within your power to change the world of a child and make it rich. You can be willing to walk slowly enough through this life that you will see the young ones who cross your path, and take the time that is necessary to let them know how important they are. 
No child should live in poverty. No child should have to grow up to wander the streets and beg not only for money but for someone to tell them they are worth a hug. Whether they do or not is up to us.

10 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Robert October 30, 2010

    Surely I’ve felt deep inside me the pain of not being wanted, just like what your story has pointed forward, your story has swept me like a cold wave, How relieving and loving it’s to be hugged!
    I believe the world in and around us can change someone positively if we do such sorts of things rather the ” BIG ”
    things we imagine financially to satisfy and solve someones’ problem.
    Thanks for sharing this story with the rest of us which i believe has and will inspire more to change somebody’s life and world,
    God Bless You.

  2. Marcia September 21, 2010

    Thanks, Tiffany. Powerful focus to think about: “never hugged a pile of skin and bones before.” And wondering why. Thanks for your candor.

  3. Joanie September 8, 2010

    We ALL need a hug every now and then! Thank you so much for such a beautiful and touching story!
    <> 🙂

  4. Garry September 8, 2010

    A moving story Tiffany. Thank you.

  5. Gwanggil September 8, 2010

    beautiful story, thank you so much.

  6. JImmy September 8, 2010

    That was a firm grip by reality. Your story painted a vivid picture of Jesus’s words in Matthew 25:34-40, “…I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me.”

  7. Greg Birgy September 8, 2010

    I had the privilege of living “in the hood” for a number of years. Across the street from me lived two nuns.They modeled this in an amazing and humbling way. I’m certain they new the name of every child and every pet within a few miles radius of their home, and those children knew their yard/home was a safe haven and a welcome place for little ones who didn’t have others at home to love on them, protect them, an help them understand their worth as children of God. As I write this I’m reminded that I don’t even know all of the children who live on my circle by name–your challenge is a powerful one and a great reminder to me of a lesson I once witnessed and learned, but have failed to continue to live out in my current circumstance where “need” may be disguised and not nearly as evident.

  8. Jenny September 8, 2010

    oh my gosh… this just totally broke my heart today… in a beautiful way.

    I too live in the DC area and have not ever taken the time to think about the fact that the homeless all around us may need just a simple hug…


  9. Sherry W. September 8, 2010

    Beautifully said. Thank you!

  10. Teresa September 8, 2010

    Thank you for being an example to us. What a tangible way to demonstrate God’s love, and to physically impart to these children how valuable they are. I appreciate that you stepped out of the box to give this man a hug. It not only blessed him, but us as well!

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