“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” – Rosa Parks
By Cortland Pfeffer and Irwin Ozborne
Every Wednesday morning for the past few months I have seen the same patient around 7:00 a.m. I would bring her a sausage and egg McMuffin every morning and sometimes a fish sandwich in the afternoon – a violation of company rules.
The “rules” also tell me that I am not supposed to pick up her medications, not to disclose personal information, and to never give hugs to patients. But we all face moments in life in which we realize that rules no longer apply to present circumstances.
Nearly sixty years ago, on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, an African-American woman refused to follow the rules and orders of a bus driver demanding she gives up her seat to a white person. The rules no longer applied to Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights movement began. A couple decades prior in Germany, Oskar Schindler and Karl Plagge were members of the Nazi Party who saw the “rules” of the time meant systematic extermination of people. They saw the rules no longer applied, with each of them finding a way to save thousands of lives along the way.
Parks, Schindler, and Plagge shared one thing in common. They recognized injustice, deliberately refused to follow the “rules” of their time, and put their personal life at risk in an effort to do the right thing. While these are all extreme examples, they all also started with one simple act which catapulted a movement.
Today, let’s start our own revolution. As they say it will not be televised. That is because only hate and corruption is televised. The real revolution is a return to love.
This woman that I would visit had just lost her only son about three years ago to suicide. She was devastated and never recovered. When I stopped by, we would just talk about life, my kids and family, politics, and the world we live in. It was the highlight of her day. She always asked me for hugs every time I came, and against staff advice, I obliged.
She was incredibly lonely and her depression had reached the point in which it was physically debilitating. She was in so much emotional pain that it was a struggle to get out of bed each day. I would help her get up and walk around outside for a few minutes to help boost her mood.
Then our Wednesday meetings always ended with a simple hug.
I find it ironic that these things violate rules. This has been scientifically / biologically proven that hugging actually releases a hormone called Oxytocin, which is a natural antidote to stress and naturally lifts ones mood. Oxytocin is also released by looking into another’s eyes, a simple holding of the hand, patting on the back, petting an animal, etc.
In fact, studies have shown that teachers that give a warm pat on the back to students will typically fare better in testing and that sports teams that make more personal contact (i.e. high fives, exuberant hugs) are more successful. It has more of a scientific backing than that of antidepressants.
Today, as I was walking towards her door, something felt different. I knocked on the door and waited as I felt something turning in my stomach.
There was no answer. She was dead.
I am not sure the cause of death, but likely will find out in the coming days once the coroner can run an autopsy. But she is gone, she has passed away and will be reunited with her son. Ask me if I regret breaking these rules for the past three months?
On her answering machine, you hear my voice saying, “I can’t come this morning. I have to bring my kids to school. But I promise I’ll be there tomorrow with the egg McMuffin.”
Before I headed to her house this morning, I was feeling very depressed about some other things going on in my personal life. I wasn’t going to bring her food today and my plan was to let her know that I could no longer keep doing this for her. As these thoughts were going through my mind, I was able to slow myself down and remind myself “just because I am depressed does not mean I should add to her pain.”
Last week, I blew her off during our visit. I was short, rushed, and didn’t want to be “bothered.” She pleaded me to stay longer, but my occupied mind would not allow me to be present that day.
“I promise we will chat more next week,” I told her. Without knowing, that next meeting never came.
And that is what I regret. I was too busy with things going on in my own world, that I missed out on an opportunity to make another person’s day brighter.
Every interaction matters, every hug matters, every moment matters. Being a man does not mean who is the most productive, busy, finishing paperwork on time, or rising to the top. No, being a man has to do with going beyond our ego and making true, meaningful connection with another soul. Give someone a hug, someone in need.
I am starting a hug club. I’m going to hug people openly just the way we did when we were children before society scared us away from loving our neighbor and fellow man. If I see someone walk in the room that I am happy to see, I am going to hug them. If I see someone distressed, I will hug them and allow their body to naturally heal the way we were created to do so.
This is my vow and I encourage others to do the same.
I know we will get weird looks, laughed at, mocked, and ridiculed. But so did Rosa Parks. A real man does not concern himself over the opinions of those still living behind their mask, because a real man understands that that hug may be saving a life.