Laurie and St. Valentine

Laurie and St. Valentine


In the fall of ’79, on the second or third day of Biodedsign, Laurie came up to me after class and whispered, “When is it OK to hug?” I gave her a puzzled look and asked what she meant.  “Well,” she said, “Last year I saw Biodesigners hugging frequently and I just wanted to k now when it was OK.” I laughed, gave her a hug and said, “Guess now is as good time as any.”  She was just a bit precocious.  The following day I read an excerpt from Ashley Montague’s book titled, “Touching;”

“The greatest sense in our body is our touch sense. It is probably the chief sense in the process of sleeping and waking; it gives us knowledge of depth or thickness and form; we feel, we love and hate, are touchy and are touched, through thetouch corpuscles of our skin.     Lionel Taylor, The Stages of Human Life.

I continued by reading a “Reader’s Digest” article titled, “Skin Hunger.”  The article noted, that like most apes, people are in need of a great deal of reassuring touching and skin contact. They cited an alarming trend that showed that for many reasons, children were not having their, “skin hunger,” satisfied.  It cited a disturbing study that showed that little boys were especially in need hugs and reassurance and that if their needs were not met they would intentionally act out, knowing that they would at least be spanked. This was a desperate and twisted method of getting the skin attention that they needed.

The article recommended lots of hugs for both kids and adults.  In order to encourage more huggers, the author identified and illustrated several non-hugs and hugs.


1. The 180-half-hug.  When someone is offered a hug the would-be recipient turns 180 degrees and invites a mutual arm-over-the-shoulder, semi-hug which avoids potentially embarrassing body contact.

2. A Frame Hug: When two people lean forward, touching their upper body (and maybe cheeks) but avoid embarrassing full body contact.

3 The, “burp-baby-burp hug.” Where two people hug tentatively and either or both nervously pat each other on the back.

4. The Real Deal. This is a full-body, hug where both participants welcome each other into their sacred space for mutual reassurance and validation.

5. The bear hug.  This hug is recommended only for close friends and family members and includes an enthusiastic, at times body-rocking embrace that may include lifting the hugee off the floor.


Typically, I would ask for volunteers and have them demonstrate the variations. It was usually quite hilarious with kids getting into the spirit. I also mentioned that hugs should be spontaneous and that they would probably feel more inclined to hug as they got to know each other better. They were reminded that hugs like these were strictly platonic and carried no sexual overtones with them.  They were also reminded to be sensitive to the fact that some people do not appreciate being hugged under any circumstances.

If hugs were sparse before the Yosemite trip, they were usually abundant after.  The challenge of getting the whole class to the top of Half Dome usually required stress, pain, sweat and sacrifice from every member.  Those who succeeded were usually rewarded with some kind of epiphany experience which commonly resulted in a massive group hug followed by many subsequent two-person hugs.

Like many of our traditions, St. Valentine’s day is a mélange of many contributing factors. One thread dates back to the February 15, pre-Roman pagan celebration of “Lupercalia,” which was suppose to rid cities of evil and guarantee fertility.  Little is known about St. Valentine except that he was a 3rd century priest serving under the Roman Emperor Claudius II. He was apparently dragged before a court and ordered to recant his Christian faith. When he refused, he was brutally beaten and subsequently beheaded. Why he became the patron saint of lovers is unclear. What is clear, however, is that he remained a rather obscure figure until the US declared its independence from England.  One of the many ideas of Benjamin Franklin was for the new government to provide postal delivery to every US citizen. An immediate golden opportunity was provided for the mass of men who were too scared or shy to tell a girl that she had attracted their interest. American ingenuity kicked in and commercial “Valentine Cards” began to be printed. This year, it is estimated that Americans will spend $14 billion on Valentine activities.

I have many wonderful memories about Laurie and the Class of ’80.  Her class got to sleep on top of Half Dome even though her boots were too small and she lost all of her toenails(ouch).  She also became one of the best huggers, a skill that she has never forgotten.


One Comment

  1. Wayne Neller

    This reflection has me rolling on the floor because, while studying for the ministry, we had a class on “hugging” — the dangers, etc. Most of the future ministers who surrounded me wanted to rule hugging out altogether. Sadly, it was just another way I felt as a square being forced in to a round hole. Keep hugging Laurie!

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