The most memorable moment during a visit to a 103-year-old Great War veteran? The black-and-white photo stamped “June 1962” showing him playing guitar to a delighted toddler. Both wear matching western shirts. The occasion? His retirement. Beautiful.I fairly buzzed with gratitude that my fellow priest-in-training asked me to join this first visit to Mr. Norman, and all is going well. That is, until he mentions his wife, who has been dead for 25 years. His voice falters, then fails. His pale eyes shimmer with unshed tears. “Dammit,” he snorts. “Don’t know why I’m like this.” I understand. I sit back slightly and look away to give him privacy. My head snaps back at the sound of my colleague’s voice. “There, there,” she coos. She has leaned in and is stroking his face. “It’s OK. It’s OK to cry.” His angry frown deepens as his tears flow freely. “That was wonderful,” she beams later. “Just wonderful.”Me? I’m not a hugger. Call it old school, but when I’m in a bad place-whether curled up on the ice with a broken foot or standing over my dad’s coffin-I don’t want a hug and I certainly don’t want to be stroked. Many Christians don’t seem to get this. During pastoral training we learn to talk about ourselves first. It’s astounding how many times, when I have just told others I’m not really a physical person, that they will lay a hand on my thigh or give my back a quick rub. One woman went so far as to launch herself up and drape herself over me, right there at the lunch table. “You’re a good person, Lee,” she whispered in my ear. “God loves you.” Now these are some of the finest people I have ever met. In God’s batting order these are the heavy hitters and they are always swinging for the centre field wall. They give it everything they have, every hour, every day. But sometimes less really is more. I find that just knowing someone is there for me makes me stronger, more peaceful, more empowered. A hug weakens me in the same proportion. Counter-intuitive? Messed up? Perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, every well-rounded batting order needs those who don’t swing for the big wall. Perhaps there really is room for those who can ease up and drop the ball over the shortstop’s head.And Mr. Norman? He was very grateful for our visit. He shook our hands. He waved goodbye with a smile. And he never asked us back.
The Rev. Lee Lambert is rector of St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Russell, Ont.