Hug O’ War

The expert on television said that post-pandemic life would never return to normal. He insisted that handshakes, crowds, parties, and hugs will forever be extinct.

“The world will probably never go back to hugs,” he said into the camera. “I seriously doubt whether we’ll see people hugging in twenty years.”

I turned off the TV, it was making me queasy. Namely, because I don’t want to live in a world without hugs. I need hugs. I miss hugs. My mother used to say the only cure for crying is a mama-hug.

Usually she would say this to a child who was crying. Then she would demonstrate.

Today I was thinking about all this when I was rifling through old photos. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Have you looked at your old photos lately?

These pictures will shock you because: (a) you used to have more hair, and (b) in every old photo you’re in a crowded place, or with a gathering, or standing in a group with arms slung around each other, half hugging.

In many of my photos I am seated in a restaurant with others, sharing appetizers, double dipping, graciously distributing my personal bacteria among friends. My glowing face looks like it is made of neon joy.

There were the photos from baseball games in Atlanta. My wife and I were in a stadium with 42,000 other fans. I was eating nachos served in a helmet, cheering alongside strangers, exchanging germs with half of Clayton, Cobb, Gwinnett, and Fulton County.

And there were the photos from a past wedding anniversary. My wife and I went to a fancy Mexican restaurant. The waiters misunderstood when I told them it was our anniversary, whereupon fifteen employees swarmed our table to sing “Happy Birthday” in Spanish.

They placed a sombrero on my head and coerced me to ingest a shot of birthday-boy tequila. I tried to explain that I had been raised Baptist, but they spoke no English, so three waiters pried open my jaws and forced the devil water down my gullet. Honest.

There were photos from summer vacations of yore.

Here we are at the Grand Canyon with hundreds of tourists.

This is us in Washington D.C. at the crowded Smithsonian.

Ah, yes. Here we are cheering in the nosebleeds while Willie Nelson sings “Crazy.”

There were photographs from an event I attended in New York City. I was smiling, standing in a huge convention center, with tons of people walking around. I remember that day clearly. Because that same evening I took a cab into Chinatown and…

Lord have mercy, I had never seen anything quite as wonderful as Chinatown. A guy could spend his whole life there and still only see half of it.

Today I heard on the radio that before the pandemic there were roughly 300 restaurants operating in Chinatown. After the devastating lockdowns, some 60 restaurants remained.

So my old photos prove that everything has changed. They prove that I’ve changed.

I’m not even the same guy I used to be. I used to pump gas without wearing a hazmat jumpsuit. I went to parties. I drank from public water fountains.

I ate at church potlucks. I went to preaching and hugged dozens of elderly people. And when the preacher shouted a sermon on the evils of tequila, his spittle would sometimes land on my face and I didn’t mind.

I used to visit schools where kids with runny noses threw their arms around me.

I ran a local 10K alongside hundreds of other middle-aged guys who all happily trotted past me, asking if I needed an ambulance.

Will those days ever come back?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about this pandemic. Too many people have done that already, and besides I’m not sorry it happened. Not by a longshot. Because I have learned a lot about myself within this trying era. I’ve learned too much.

I’ve learned how self-absorbed I can be. I’ve learned that I used to consume WAY too much coffee, eat too much barbecue, and I could have been the poster child for Hostess.

I’ve also learned that people care for their neighbors more than I ever believed. I’ve learned that humans are nicer than I thought.

I have learned that I enjoy solitude. I have relearned how to curl up and read novels. I rediscovered my affection for Bob Wills. I re-fell in love with sitting in the backyard sunshine while my dogs try to dig to Brazil. I am currently learning how to kill rosebushes.

Still. When I look at old pictures I see an old world that I miss dearly. People in the photos looked so purposeful, so at ease.

Then I notice my own stupid face in these photos. A face that smiled easily. A face that makes me wonder what I was thinking at the time the picture was taken.

I wish you could see the face I speak of. The putz never quits grinning. It’s as though he imagines his world will never change. He thinks life will be normal forever.

It was pure innocence, really. Back then I took it all for granted. And in a way I’m glad I took those good times for granted because this means I felt no anxiety about losing them forever. And anxiety screws everything up.

Take this past year. We have had too much anxiety. Anxiety leads to crying. And according to my mother there is only one thing that cures crying.

So I pray the TV expert is wrong.


  1. Bob E - March 3, 2021 6:58 am

    Why wait for an end to the pandemic to hug?
    What if it’s never over? That’s what some ‘experts’ predict.
    Expert shmexpert – they’re wrong as often as they’re right.
    I hugged an elderly stranger the other day – it felt great and nobody whined and complained about it either.
    I’m planning on continuing hugs tomorrow and the next day.
    There are a bazillion ways to ‘catch’ the virus aside from hugging (the ‘experts’ will tell you that) – all kinds of regular normal things we do each and every day so you might as well throw in a few hugs here and there.
    I’ve already missed a cousin’s and an aunt’s funerals because of asinine ‘expert’ rules – can’t get into Canada the ‘experts’ say…
    Well ‘expert’ this – I’m hugging when I can…enough to become an expert at it!

  2. Cynthia - March 3, 2021 10:18 am

    I teach 3rd grade in person. I have a delightful student who hugs me every day. At first I was hesitant about allowing him, but I threw caution to the wind. Mental health is just as important as physical health. We are masked all day for those wondering.

  3. Norma Den - March 3, 2021 10:43 am

    Hugs are the best medicine. I can’t live without them. The pandemic in Africa is huge. South Africa treating it seriously, vaccines beginning to be administered but considering the population our death toll is still very low and recovery rate excellent. I’m in my ‘70’s, and I will NOT stop getting & giving hugs. No one has yet suggested COVID is spread by the ear & when hugging a masked friend or stranger it’s basically ear to ear. I’ll take all the hugs I can get with gratitude. There is enough misery in the world. I repeat I cannot exist without HUGS. Here’s a huge South African hug to you Sean. And all your readers too. Bless you for your inspirational messages.

  4. Rich Owen - March 3, 2021 11:22 am

    The so-called “TV expert” is an idiot! Hang in there, Sean. Life will return to normal. Hugs are just around the corner!

  5. Leigh Amiot - March 3, 2021 11:29 am

    Sean, with the vaccination rate of 1.8 million daily, nearly 29 million people have survived covid (including me and my husband), and CDC estimates as many as ten times this amount have been infected. Herd immunity and fearless hugging are on the horizon! Glad you turned that TV off. My late FIL called the television an “idiot box”. A whole lot of idiots are yammering on that thing, trying to make idiots of the rest of us. I don’t for a minute believe that “expert” who intruded on your peace. Looking at old pictures, reading a book, growing roses, pondering what this situation has taught you—all much better things to do! My late FIL also used to say, “Keep the faith!”

  6. Susan - March 3, 2021 11:56 am

    The TV expert is WRONG! Life as it was will return because we all miss it so much. In the mean time sideways hugs are a pretty good substitute! I look forward to reading your stories each morning, Sean. Thank you!!

  7. Suzi - March 3, 2021 12:05 pm

    I hugged an old friend at a funeral yesterday (masks in place) that had a surgical setback. A heart impulse, but one that makes me feel guilty for that blatant demonstration of heart taking over brain.

  8. Lisa Ware - March 3, 2021 12:24 pm

    Dear Sean,
    My husband & I own a small PT clinic in central Mississippi. We’ve stayed open throughout this mess as essential workers. We’ve cleaned & sanitized every surface continuously & worn masks until our throats were dry & we are lightheaded. Now our staff (which has been cut down by 1/2 since Covid began) & all our patients have either had COVID & survived or gotten the vaccine- or both. (My husband almost died from COVID in December & his Father did die of it on February 2.) Yesterday we heard the wonderful news that all businesses would be open at full capacity & masks would be optional. There were many hugs given & received yesterday in our small clinic. My guess is the little man on TV has not had many hugs in his lifetime… nothing to do with COVID.
    An essential worker

  9. Jean - March 3, 2021 12:48 pm

    In my county we have lost over 71 people to covid. There are many widows most of them still young and their lives are forever changed. I hope that our world goes back to normal but for some it will not be.

  10. jvperdue - March 3, 2021 12:53 pm

    The TV expert probably serves as a weather forecaster on the weekends and is never correct,

  11. Tammy S. - March 3, 2021 12:54 pm

    Still hugging here in NC. The health benefits to hugging is real folks. Very real. I hug my husband, and my son on a daily basis. Our grandson comes every other weekend and there are lots of hugs, and squirming out of those hugs when this Mima holds on just a little longer. He is 8. Haha But when we take him home he just about tackles me and Papa with one final hug and says, “I’ll see you in 12 days!!” And he knows when he sees us, he’ll get more hugs. I get to work with 3 of my best friends. Our other BF moved back home to S.C. but we still get together for birthdays & Christmas and go seeking blue water at least once a year together. When we got together at Christmas, there were lots of hugs between us 5. Our friendships started over 25+ years ago when we had little ones that are now grown young adults. The 3 I work with did not see each other but twice over the summer due to shut downs. We work in a preschool. Our governor shut us down. As was church. And we all go to church together, as well. When we started back to preschool this past fall, on that first morning back, when we saw each other, there was a slight moment of hesitation, then big grins, then a hug! Over 25+ years of friendship and it’s just the plain simple truth, we are huggers and it felt good to be back at work, and to get a hug. Sadly, in the mix of all that has gone on our attendance at preschool fell by a third. And one of the BFs, who is owner/director, made the tough decision that this will be our last year. 26 years she’s had the preschool. And now, the countdown is on until our last day, our last preK graduation class will drive through to get their diplomas and we will bid goodbye to all the teaching staff and office administration. But us 5 plan to continue lunches, May birthday & Christmas get-togethers, blue water beach getaways, and any other excuse to get together with old friends and to share a hug, or two. We have promised to hold on tight and see these friendships through. It’s what life is all about. And science backs us up. And we know better on this end just how blessed we are to have had all these moments. We take nothing for granted when it comes to relationships, and a good long hug.

  12. Morton Vice - March 3, 2021 12:56 pm

    TV EXPERT… No such thing… Come on Sean, I’ve already started hugging. We Americans have a very short memory. You know and I know that life like it use to be is getting ready to explode. Explode with love, kindness and big ole sappy hugs. I’ll bet you a dollar.

  13. Bob Brenner - March 3, 2021 1:06 pm

    Sean, you are better than that TV expert (?) will ever be! Where was that Mexican restaurant? I think I’ll have a birthday 🥳 😊 ❤️!

  14. Beryl - March 3, 2021 1:16 pm

    I respect that people have a fear about the spread of the virus. AND…hugging increases your immune response. This is a scientific fact. I’m a massage therapist and I touch people everyday. For some, this is the only sustained touch they receive, even before the pandemic. I have strict protocols in my business to keep people as safe as possible. I hug the people who want to receive a hug. I live alone and I need hugs too. So, I ask for them from the people who wish to give them. Hugs are in your future my friend. A masked hug is better than no hug at all. Keep on hugging!

  15. Julie - March 3, 2021 1:25 pm

    This is a case of Benefit outweighs the Risk, and Mental Health is as important as Physical Health. I say Hug Away as safely as you can…”experts” be d_____! I mean silenced!!
    Did that guy on TV also do the Weather⁉️

  16. Connie - March 3, 2021 1:51 pm

    I’m going to hug. Sorry. I’m an old lady with tons of family raised in the country. We know that hugs are the best thing for the human spirit. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hug everyone, just the ones who are open to it. And I’m as careful as I can be, but I’m not going to live my in fear. Hugs are as important as air. In fact I have two cherished photos on my phone hugging you! Love and hugs from Alabama.

  17. Jan - March 3, 2021 1:56 pm

    The last year has taught us many lessons. Perhaps the most important one being just how important relationships (and therefore hugs) are. If anything changes about hugs, I believe they will increase not disappear. Physical touch is important to the survival of newborn infants and I believe to humans in general. I intend to keep on hugging so all my children, grands, siblings, nieces & nephews, and friends better be prepared.

  18. Joyce - March 3, 2021 1:57 pm

    You’re wrong, Sean. We WILL be hugging again. People who have been fortunate enough to receive their second shot know this. We may not hug so tightly, but we will hug again. Here’s one for you! And (shock!) a kiss for you, too.

  19. Keloth Anne - March 3, 2021 1:58 pm

    This is just “spot on”. You always seem to know the words needed that will boost spirits and bring a smile. Thank you for your love of mankind and belief in humanity—-and for sharing your thoughts with us. love to you and Jamie ♥️🥰

  20. Amanda - March 3, 2021 1:59 pm

    Your mom was/is very astute, partly correct, and practical. Hugs are not the only thing that cures crying, but they are definitely one of the best and possibly one of the quickest sometimes. Laughter can cure crying even laughter through tears. But if you can’t remember the punchlines (like me) then that doesn’t always work. You are excellent at providing the daily chuckles and gut laughs.
    Pets, as you know, can help tremendously. Time will alleviate tears. Some people need to cry it all out. Music and singing can stop the downspout Even a bird’s song can work wonders. Last, but not least, the good Lord through prayers and other means can dry them! “They that sow in tears shall reap in Joy” Proverbs

  21. Bill in Tennessee - March 3, 2021 2:17 pm

    Here’s a fun fact about so-called “experts”: Charles H. Duell was the Commissioner of US patent office in 1899. Mr. Deull’s most famous attributed utterance is that “everything that can be invented has been invented.” He said that because of this, the Patent Office should be closed. Another scientist in the early 1900s once said that it would be impossible to leave Earth’s gravity and go into space, that no amount of fuel could lift its own weight into orbit.

    That pretty much sums up what the sorry track record of “experts” has been. So I’m thinking that the expert you cite here is pretty much PROOF that we will return to normal. It will probably come at the grassroots level, with large groups of people like you and me, sick of isolating and living in fear, simply do what comes naturally to us and defying the “experts.”

  22. Harriet - March 3, 2021 2:19 pm

    Hi Sean,
    HUG PEOPLE ANYWAY. And there are NO tv “experts” they all are liars. It definitely sucks right now. I want the old America back. Sometimes I just sit and think. I have a husband and 3 daughters and a small business. I can’t believe how much we have allowed our government to take over our lives. I am pulling my kids out of the brain washing schools next year but I don’t know how I will home school them and make money at the same time. It is so very sad. And I am still furious.
    Harriet from Atlanta

  23. Ann - March 3, 2021 2:21 pm

    Hugs will come back…necessity they are!
    They make people feel whole and we do…did…and will need hugs!, and as to the pictures, I recently did that then took a nap with a smile on my face enjoying what I had and hope my children and grandchildren feel the same way as they look back AND FORWARD

  24. allisvant - March 3, 2021 2:39 pm

    Veni, Vidi, Pressi !

  25. Sandy - March 3, 2021 3:15 pm

    Don’t believe it! We are on our way back to hugging. I know of and have seen a lot of people hugging. Let’s keep the good we have discovered through all of this and flush the bull **** down the drain. Let me leave you with one of my favorite sayings. I don’t know who said it. But, here it is:
    Use your voice for kindness, your ears for compassion, your hands for charity, your mind for truth, and your heart for love.

  26. Christina - March 3, 2021 3:44 pm

    We shall overcome with creative ways to make hugs happen!

  27. Patricia Gibson - March 3, 2021 3:45 pm

    I hope they are wrong too. I know they are for me! I never stopped hugging those that were willing. The pandemic has been hard but not the only health issue in the world. Living my life as tomorrow is not promised for anyone❤️

  28. John Skelton - March 3, 2021 3:55 pm

    I also remember the good old Dr, when I was neither old nor good!

  29. Linda Holmes - March 3, 2021 4:04 pm

    This so called expert is not from anywhere around Alabama. Nor has he/she ever attended a family reunion and see aunts, uncles, cousins and their families. This person needs to meet my former classmates from high school. Hugging is a big thing in the South and I’m not talking about those touches on the shoulders at arms length. I mean those big bear hugs that causes all the air to exit your lungs and you both stagger apart, only to go for seconds. Even on a smaller scale, my group of eight friends hugs and even kisses. Lord, I need a hug. I’m glad my husband is a hugger. When he returns home, we’re going to hug and kiss like long lost lovers.

  30. AlaRedClayGirl - March 3, 2021 4:40 pm

    I think that “expert” is just constipated and in dire need of mama’s cure…mineral oil and a big mama hug!

  31. Gayle - March 3, 2021 4:47 pm

    Sean, I decided that my mental health is better if I – don’t listen to the media (who claim to be the experts), don’t put too much stock in the experts (because they have changed their mind too many times during this pandemic), continue to smile from a safe distance, hug those who really need it (of course with a mask on), and continue to read your stories.

  32. Kathleen K Henry - March 3, 2021 5:08 pm

    The TV exprtt is WRONG!!! WORRY NOT.

  33. Pat De Loncker - March 3, 2021 5:19 pm

    Forget the experts!
    There are to many people telling us what we can and can’t do!
    We need to take care of each other and if a hug helps …then go ahead and give one to someone and let someone hug you too.
    Things will get back to normal as soon as we allow them to.

  34. Beau - March 3, 2021 5:20 pm

    Well, when the end comes I hope y’all have had a serious full dose of Bible Study. Pray for our Creator to open yr minds & hearts to the truth. Read the Bible like most of it is literally true. I will look forward to hugs in Heaven.

  35. Jane Sparacio - March 3, 2021 5:33 pm

    TV expert = Soooo Wrong!

  36. Anne Swinson Godwin - March 3, 2021 5:35 pm

    I stopped watching the “news” years ago. The news turned into “opinions”. My husband and I watch something on Netflix or old VHS tapes in the evening. Then I leave and he watches the bad news, comparing several channels. The “experts” have been so wrong on so many issues connected to this plague.

    A group of quilter fiends recently went into a small restaurant that’s been around for years, but was new to us. The owner, who looked older than me, but at 70, it’s hard for me to tell anymore, was working by himself. As we left, I stuck my head in his work area and told him thanks, we enjoyed our meal. He came out and asked for a hug. Yep, we hugged. I think we will get back to normal.

    My husband and I had Covid in November. It was a mild case. And for that I’m thankful. We’re in a band, The Backroom Band, with a group of friends. We just met for the second time in the last year. I’ve missed the music and friends. We’re planning a front yard singing get-together like we’ve had in the past, in April. Everyone will bring a chair and food to share. If you want to be a surprise guest artist, which we’ve done in the past, get in touch with me. We’re in Mobile, just a short drive away.

    I’m thankful for your daily messages. You have a gift.

  37. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 3, 2021 5:36 pm

    I believe in touch and I believe strongly in the power of hugs. I didn’t give it up. I may not have hugged as many people as before but I still hug the special ones or the ones that need it most (me) I wear my mask and I wash my hands (but I touch my face) I have faith over fear and I keep as much a distance as possible. But you can never take hugs away completely and they will not go away. I feel sorry for this “expert” if he is living without them. What a sorry sucky life he is going to lead!!

  38. elizabethroosje - March 3, 2021 6:25 pm

    Well you can just toss that expert out the window! Of course hugs will continue! they are still continuing! I see it at my church. Things have changed but hugs, they are not changing. Take heart Sean.

  39. Patti - March 3, 2021 6:26 pm

    Hugs are NOT going away. Not on my watch!

  40. Patti - March 3, 2021 6:35 pm

    Hugs are NOT going away. Not on my watch!!

  41. Rebecca Souders - March 3, 2021 6:47 pm

    So, here’s the solution, and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be happier: Turn off the TV.

    • Pat De Loncker - March 3, 2021 7:04 pm

      Great advice!

  42. Pat De Loncker - March 3, 2021 6:50 pm

    Forget the “experts”
    I think we are all tired of the experts telling us what we can and can’t do.
    Things will get back to normal as soon as we allow them to.
    If a hug will help someone…then do it
    If a hug will help you…then let someone hug you.
    Visit someone
    Celebrate something with someone
    We need to get back to enjoying our lives
    As God intended and you cant do that by being afraid

  43. Linda Moon - March 3, 2021 8:12 pm

    I’m glad I didn’t see the expert on TV. If I had, it might’ve brought up images of Elvis’s reaction to his own TV when he was upset with a singer’s song. Like you, Sean, I’m upset with the expert’s prognosis of twenty years without hugs. Your hugs were bone-crushing and worth the risk of a fracture at the very least. LIFE itself is a risk. It was a risk today while driving on a busy road to get a LIFE-saving injection. Grand Canyon, Smithsonian, New York City, and Willie…I’ve seen them all and hope to do it again when the expert is proven wrong. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my new-found solitude and thoughts of returning to hugs. And I’ll be turning off my TV while listening to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys!

  44. Patricia Schmaltz - March 3, 2021 8:14 pm

    Of course they are wrong.. and we are wrong for thinking they are ‘experts’. Heck, I’m already hugging.. (but I’m on vaccine shot #2). HUGS to you Sean! Don’t believe all you hear or read. They get paid to incite fear. (Take a walk on the Destin Harbor and you’ll see ‘normal life’ again!)

  45. Susan Kennedy - March 3, 2021 8:39 pm

    I’m hugging. As long as the receiver doesn’t object, I’m hugging.

  46. MAM - March 3, 2021 8:41 pm

    Another good reason NOT to watch TV. To me, it seems the “experts” are always wrong. And I still hug my husband frequently and he hugs back. And yes, I was looking for an old photo and you’re right, not a one of them has me alone, except one of me signing a solo (back when I could still sing).

  47. Mary - March 3, 2021 9:57 pm

    I’m with you! Your Mama is right. Those TV experts are crazy if they think hugging is going to end. Not so.

  48. Dawnie B - March 3, 2021 10:03 pm

    I will get my 2nd vaccination at the end of the month, as I am sure lots of others have done already, or are getting ready to. I bet you could have a book signing 😏 with those who have their vaccine cards! Then you can start getting lots of hugs again!!! I would definitely be there! ❤🤟

  49. Tim House - March 3, 2021 10:05 pm

    Have Faith! There WILL be handshakes, hugs, even crowds and parties, and it will be soon. Heck, some of it already is going on. I’d venture to say it hasn’t even stopped for many. But Human Nature will not be buried, so life as it basically is, and has been, will be back on track, as always.

  50. Debbie Braswell - March 3, 2021 11:27 pm

    Commentator obviously doesn’t livd in the South! We will never give up hugging!

  51. Nancy Powell - March 4, 2021 2:05 am

    Sean, I hugged an old friend today in a grocery store that I had not seen for a very long time. I did it before I even thought, then said oh damn, I am sorry! She said for what? We have all become different folks during this pandemic! I pray one day we can all he normal again!

  52. Pat De Loncker - March 4, 2021 4:34 am


  53. Linda Keyes - March 4, 2021 5:18 pm

    OH I believe that the “so called expert” is so totally wrong. In fact, I’m already seeing people hugging again and I’m one of them. Your Mamma is right – Hugs cure a lot of ills and they just plain make us feel better. So start hugging & prove the “expert” wrong.


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