Don’t Hug Me, I’m From Idaho

Idahoans are fiercely independent. At least they were when I was growing up there in the 1970s and 80s. Private property was king. And no one, not even the government, could tell an individual what he/she could do. We guarded our privacy, too, though we were fine with gossiping about our neighbors. We greeted each other with nods, handshakes, gracious smiles, or, in some parts of the state, a tip of the hat.

When my husband and I moved to Colorado in 1992, one of the first people I met was a coworker of his. She invited me to lunch, and as she introduced herself, she threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug. Well, that was different. I mean, we’d only just met. In Idaho, you might have hugged your best friend or close relative, if the occasion called for it, but you didn’t go around hugging strangers.

The first time I visited my husband’s family on their farm for a weekend, Roger and I were driving home and I said, “I think I freaked out your sister.”

“Nothing freaks her out,” he responded. “What did you do?”

“I hugged her good-bye.”

“You did what?” he said. “Oh yeah, you freaked her out.”

Shortly after my first encounter with a Coloradoan, I noticed that several other people out here were pretty free with their hugs. And over time, I loosened up and found myself hugging people too. A little awkwardly at first, but over time with more confidence. In fact, now I’m often the one who happily instigates the hug. It feels pretty natural now.

Last night, we were at a party. I was chatting with a friendly woman I’d met briefly a few times before. As we said our good-byes, she threw her arms open wide and said, “I’m sorry, I’m a hugger.” And I realized something. Here was a woman who walked through life with so much love, she was eager to share it with anyone willing to step into her embrace.

So, I did just that, and she wrapped me in a long, tight, heartfelt hug – the kind you’d give your child or a friend you hadn’t seen in years – rocking me slightly back and forth. I closed my eyes and leaned into it, feeling the weight of her arms, the warmth of her body, the smoothness of her cheek against mine. Feeling her love and gratitude for how far I’ve come. It’s okay to be independent, as long as we never forget we’re also part of a greater whole. It’s okay to value our space, as long as it doesn’t box us in. Sometimes in order to grow, we must first be a little uncomfortable.

A few minutes later, a male friend said good-bye to me with a kiss on the cheek. A kiss? Now, that’s something we definitely wouldn’t have done in Idaho! Vive la différence.

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