Hug Currency

Mar. 16, 2024

“Now is your time for grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice.”  John 16:22

Chatting up the receptionist on the way into the gym is not something I typically do. Thirty minutes on the treadmill is the goal, a quick shower, off to work. Fifty minutes total.

Today was different.

“Not seen you in awhile,” quipped the man behind the desk.

“Busy month,” I deflected, keeping my eye on the men’s locker room door.

“What’s more important than keeping your health?”

Ouch. Can’t argue with that truth. I lobbed a few excuses.  He wasn’t buying it. Time to flip the conversation.

“So what do you do when you’re not needling people about their lack of self-discipline?” I laughed.

“I make the world a better place,” he bantered “by giving hugs and high fives.”

“That’s nice,” I acquiesced with a soft chuckle.

“No seriously,” he boasted. “For the past 20 years I’ve given over 500,000 hugs to people around the world. Ridden my bike across the US, Africa and Asia—just giving people hugs and high fives.”

Now I couldn’t walk away. Never met anyone on worldwide mission to hug people. Had to be more to the story.  I glanced at my watch.  Workout time to 20 minutes.

“I’m curious,” I beckoned. “How did this all start? How do just start hugging people?”

And then Dave shared how his best friend was killed when one of planes hit the World Trade Center in 2001. Working in Philadelphia at the time, he remembered being sent home early from work and gathering with neighbors.

“People just started hugging each other,” he recalled. “In their moment of grief and fear I noticed the power of a hug.”

A few months later Dave was riding his bike across America—from Washington State to Philadelphia—memorializing his friend, raising money for charity and…..offering hugs and high fives to people. From his interaction, Dave captured 99 stories and wrote a book called “One Hug at a Time.”

Nine minutes on the treadmill.

“I just wish I started earlier in life,” he mused. “I could have hugged more than a million people by now.”

Dave embodies the great paradox of life, doesn’t he?  Life can be brutally cruel. Suffering unimaginable. Here in lies the mystery: why does one guy head to the local bar to deal with pain, another rides across the country giving hugs? One heart shrinks. Another expands….
“Suffering can of course embitter the one who suffers,” shared the late Bishop Tutu. “But in many other circumstances it can ennoble the sufferers.”

Dave is certainly ennobled—discovered his life purpose in suffering.

Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem this week. We know what’s ahead. The physical and psychological agony will be horrific. There’s the emotional high of Palm Sunday, contrasted with the betrayal by Judas his disciple. There’s the celebratory fellowship of the last supper, contrasted to the denial by his close friend Peter. There’s the anointing of Jesus’ head with expensive perfume, contrasted with the crown of thorns and physical torture by Roman soldiers. Highs and brutal lows. Creating a more horrendous ending for a virtuous man would be a challenge for even the best fiction writer. But our Gospels hide nothing. Our faith is birthed in violence.

Yet this unusual birthplace creates a world altering event, reminding us that God makes good out of the horrendous. It seems improbable. Even impossible. But 2000 years ago it happened, and continues happening to this day. I see it play out in some of the most difficult places and difficult circumstances.  A gift for you, me and guys like Dave.  Evil, despair and tragedy doesn’t need to own our narrative. That’s good and hopeful news. Worthy of giving someone a hug.