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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Some Embraces Hold Their Own

(This entry is not part of those before and after it.)

If you watched President Bush’s State of the Union Address Wednesday night, you probably agree that the highlight of the speech (and possibly the highlight of all SOTU speeches ever given) was not one of the many memorable lines but rather the image of a long embrace between a mother who had lost her son in Iraq and an Iraqi exile who had just voted in Baghdad because of America's sacrifice in her homeland. This was not a hug (as most have described it since) it was an embrace. There was a time when those two words were more synonymous, but somewhere in the Nineties, hugs became common and obligatory. Parents were asked by bumper stickers “Have you hugged your kid today?” Men were encouraged to prove they were not homophobic by hugging other men; and then there were “group hugs” where multiple participants affirmed each other collectively.

Don’t get me wrong. I think parents should hug their kids often; I’ve never been afraid to hug a male friend or brother or my father; and I’ve even enjoyed a group hug or two. But in the Nineties, it became trendy to hug, and trends tend to trivialize the thing they tout. What we saw Wednesday night was an embrace. Hugs are dispensed; embraces are shared. Hugs show acceptance; embraces affirm a new or time-tested bond. Hugs presume there’ll be other hugs; embraces stand alone. Hugs are squeezed; embraces hold their own.

Think back in your life to the “hugs” you remember and you can define “embrace.” I recall the last time I “hugged” my father in the driveway of the house my mom still calls home. He had survived his second heart attack and we had brought him home in time for Christmas 1994. A few days later, we had to return to Iowa and there in their driveway we hugged goodbye like a hundred times before, but this hug became an embrace when it “held its own” as both of us thought many unspoken words. I did not let myself think that this would be our last goodbye, but maybe Dad did and wanted me to remember…. and it was.

I also remember an embrace at Dad’s funeral. It was with a special lady, our pastor’s wife during the most important years of our family’s life. I’d been “hugging” countless old friends all day. They were heartfelt expressions, but one stood out. When Pastor and Mrs. Rhodes came through the line, Mrs. Rhodes just said my name and embraced me with all the love that she had shown my family all those years. She is a tiny woman, but her hug was huge--an embrace I'll never forget. I also remember the day after the funeral when our family stood at the back door of Mom’s house and prayed and cried and “hugged” goodbye for the first time without Dad. Those were embraces, and they began many years of embraces at such times of parting.

Now ask yourself if you saw a hug or an embrace Wednesday night? I take umbrage with the cynics who have called this embrace a staged moment. Introducing special guests to underscore moments in SOTU speeches began with Reagan and has been tastefully done ever since. So, yes, the presence of these people was planned. The fact that Safia Taleb al-Suhail sat next to the first Lady was planned. The fact that she proudly held her ink-stained finger high—proof that she had voted in Sunday’s Iraqi election—was no surprise. And later in the speech, the fact that Janet and Bill Norwood, parents from Bush’s home state who had lost a son two months earlier were seated a row behind them was planned and appropriate. BUT… the embrace was not planned or even anticipated. It was awkward because of the height difference between the two rows of seats. It was initiated with no thought by the mother who was at a loss for how to absorb the gratitude of the throng. Safia turned around with tears in her eyes and the mother responded with a hug that turned into an embrace lasting 15 seconds (not counting the time it took for Laura Bush to untangled the marine’s dog-tags from the Iraqi lady’s cuff button). The embrace was long without seeming long. The cut-away shots to President Bush during this tearful ovation of all in the chamber show a leader brimming with emotion, turning his face away to maintain composure.

The symbolism of this embrace was so powerful that many partisans and media pundits like Dianne Sawyer have since asked if it as staged. To them I say: hugs can be staged like air-kisses on the cheeks of sworn enemies, but embraces like this cannot be staged.
Some embraces hold their own.

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