Ozark, Alabama—the weekend. It’s late. I’m at an Applebee’s because it’s the only place still open. There are a few men at the bar, drinking alone. They look exhausted.
The food here is barely passable. The beer is cold. Our waitress is named Amber. Amber looks tired.
My wife and I are here with our friend Katie. You’d like Katie. She’s a hospice nurse, a priest’s wife, a mother. Women like her should be wearing capes and tiaras. She gives good hugs.
I am tired tonight. An hour ago, I spoke at the First United Methodist Church of Ozark. I’m surprised they even let me through the front doors.
I’m not a Methodist, you see. In fact, I’m not sure what I am.
After speaking, I met a seven-year-old girl who was in the audience. Her name was Emily. She was small and shy. She handed me a handwritten note.
On her letter it read: “From Emily, your number-one fan.” It was written in purple ink.
I placed it into my pocket.
Emily gave me a good hug.
Good hugs are getting harder to find, if you ask me. Not everybody gives them, you know. I’ve had my share of crummy embraces.
Some folks give weak hugs. Others shrink away—raising serious questions about my breath. Some older men slap you on the back hard enough to stunt your growth. My uncle, for instance, is a notorious slapper.
Emily hugged me hard. And I noticed her wiping a few tears from her eyes. Then she was gone.
I was one of the last to leave the church. I packed my things. The building was empty. I walked past an open door in a hallway.
I passed a small chapel. I peeked into the empty room. The lights were off. The stained glass was pretty. The chapel had an old-fashioned wood altar.
There were low velvet cushions along the front. A railing around the pulpit.
I guess the cushions are for kneeling. The railing, I suppose, is to keep screaming fans away from the bell choir.
I wouldn’t know. I didn’t grow up with knee-cushions or bell choirs. I grew up with shouting preachers, springtimes without Lent, and gospel quartets who sang “He Touched Me” loud enough to affect the weather.
I decided to kneel on a cushion.
I wondered what I ought to be doing with my hands. I tried folding them, but that felt unnatural. So I shoved them into my pockets.
I felt paper. Emily’s letter.
I unfolded and read the note. And it doesn’t matter what she wrote, I was privileged to read it. I placed it back into my pocket and thought about that hug she gave me.
I closed my eyes. I bowed my head. I said a few words—mostly, for a seven-year-old I’ve only met once.
Nothing happened. No lights from the sky. No soft rendition of “He Touched Me.” Just quiet.
And all of a sudden, I felt lucky. Not little-kid-on-Christmas-morning lucky. But Sunday-dinner-with-the-family lucky. Winning-at-Scrabble lucky. Chocolate-bunny-on-Easter lucky.
I’m lucky to be here. I’m lucky to have friends who are hospice nurses. And to have received hugs from children.
So here I am at Applebee’s. I’m eating, sipping beer, talking, laughing. I’m enjoying myself with people I love. Life goes by too quick.
One hand is in my coat pocket, holding a paper note. Emily. I hope that child knows how much her letter meant to me. I hope this letter means something to her one day.
And I’m glad Methodists have those cushions.
Hug someone for me.
Pamela McEachern - March 18, 2018 6:03 am
Hugs are good for the soul.
Peace and Love from Birmingham
Alison Crosby - March 18, 2018 7:13 am
You did good in Ozark. My friend, Teri, and I were so glad we made the trip from Huntsville to hear you! We got to meet your wife, who was so lovely. I can tell you Sean, your coming to Ozark was the most interesting thing that has happened in that town since my great ( three greats?) grandfather William Ward was hung in the town square. Really. I’m so thankful you left town with that sweet note in your pocket, but oh, so very sorry that you ended up at Applebee’s. I could have warned you.
A new fan, Alison
Sandi in FL - March 18, 2018 7:17 am
A genuine hugger is a person who does not let go of a hug first.
Lucretia - March 18, 2018 7:56 am
Thank you, Sean, thank you, Emily. . .I shall give a hug. . .a hug will always be tied to you both and your reminder and example. . .I thank all of you . . .
Susan Hammett Poole - March 18, 2018 10:29 am
You sure know how to tell a story, grabbing our attention as well as our hearts in one fell swoop. Thank you, Sean.
Stan Bennett - March 18, 2018 10:56 am
All those things you talked about have nothing to do with luck. It’s called being blessed by Gods grace and mercy we are all blessed. Luck is for horse shoes.
Pam - March 18, 2018 11:04 am
yes, I will hug someone today ❤️
Col. David Gilhart - June 7, 2018 11:30 pm
Hugs are free!!! Give it anytime you can. It may just be all the person needed to have faith in humanity.
Theresa Clark - March 18, 2018 11:10 am
Hug like you mean it. This is a hug in words..reaching to heart and soul. Thank you Sean.
Rebecca - March 18, 2018 11:25 am
Thanks. I’ll be hugging a little tighter today!
Connie - March 18, 2018 11:44 am
I’m a big hugger. You’ve met me, lol. You probably don’t remember every person you meet, but you leave an impression on every person who reads your words or listens to them. Sending you a big hug today. I hope you have a marvelous Sunday and get some rest.
Dianne - March 18, 2018 12:04 pm
My husband is a big hugger…………..he always hugs everyone, especially new people he meets. He always tells them “everybody needs hugs”. He’s so right. Thank you for another wonderful story!
Marisa Franca @ All Our Way - March 18, 2018 12:19 pm
I’d be glad to give someone a hug today. You see, Italians are huggers! We hug hello, we hug good-bye and we hug for the heck of it. But before I go off on my hug-a-thon I’m sending you one.
Jan - March 18, 2018 12:38 pm
A wonderful way to start my Sunday as I head to the Methodist church. I believe I shall just have to kneel on those cushions and thank God for you and Emily both! Thank you!
theholtgirls - March 18, 2018 12:42 pm
Sean, Your words are hugs. Especially your last words in every post. I’ve noticed that, in most situations in life, the last words shared are usually the most heart-felt and meaningful. As a child, I loved to hear my Mom say, “One more thing…” to my friends’ moms – that meant we could keep on playing!
Thank you to Emily for her handwritten hug! Thank you to you for sharing about it!
Don’t be surprised if Applebee’s in Ozark, Alabama doesn’t improve their food a little. Lord, bless Amber!
candyalso - March 18, 2018 1:15 pm
I grew up in that church in Ozark. I live in Tn now but would have surely been there to see you in person had it not been so far to travel. I hope one day I’ll get to give you a big hug! I agree that Applebee’s needs…well, they need more than a hug!
Carol Houston Rothwell - March 18, 2018 1:44 pm
My family were great huggers…!!
Now their all gone. ,but from them to me to mine,we carry on the tradition,women & men both,making huger’s out of the next generation.!
It something that just needs to be passed on!!
This one’s for you!! Pass it on!!
Sue Cronkite - March 18, 2018 2:00 pm
Blessings on you. Go to church today. It’s Sunday. God’s Day. You’ll get more blessings. What you do is a God thing.
judemiller1 - March 18, 2018 2:09 pm
The Methodist slogan, “Open minds, open hearts, open doors.” We let anyone come in Sean, and we’d all welcome you with a hug!! 🙂 XX OO
rosiegene1 - March 18, 2018 2:19 pm
Hi Sean: Thank you for your post. I like hugs. Like hugging folks, receiving hugs. They really do make your day. Hugs can be energizing . In this day and age there sometimes feels like there are fences up. Invisible fences with “keep away” signs. Verbal hugs are good. Something as simple as telling especially a older person how nice they look, how pretty a blouse or “hairdo” looks, wow! it usually brings a radiant smile. Oh you know sometimes I know I’ve the received a precious gift of a beautiful smile. There aren’t enough hugs around these day. Thanks for listening.
Jack Quanstrum - March 18, 2018 3:25 pm
I think we are lucky to be here. Great story with an excellent suggestion.
muthahun - March 18, 2018 3:51 pm
It really IS the little things. And purple ink? That just the best!
tattletale411 - March 18, 2018 5:01 pm
I wanted to see you in Ozark with a friend of mine but I guess she was too busy. I’m glad you wrote about your experience there. How sweet. Frame that note from Emily. Cherish it always.
Betty P. Frankl - March 18, 2018 5:28 pm
Sean, as a Methodist so long that I almost knew John Wesley, I’ll tell you that those cushions come in handy when you REALLY need them. I read everything of yours with what I hope is a spirit of calm interest. On occasion, I become overwhelmed with your words and my husband enters the room, looks at the tears and asks if I’m reading that Sean’s words again. thank you for reminding me that there is another world way back here in Alabama that is calmer and more gracious than the evening news.
Virginia Watson Snell - March 18, 2018 7:11 pm
My husband and I (Skipperville) were there. We enjoyed meeting you and Jamie and the program was so good. You should have got the barbeque plate they had at the church. It was delicious. We don’t go to Applebee’s ever. My Daddy was a hugger and I certainly followed in his footsteps. I love getting and giving a hug.
Helen Bullard - March 18, 2018 8:20 pm
I am a life long Methodist and have only been a member of small town churches in Arkansas. We give hugs; I hope I give strong hugs and hand shakes. I have been told that was important along with other Southern graces. Yes our churches have cushions and we encourage kneeling. I feel humbled when I am at the Altar and kneeling – a feeling of safety and love is there too. So on this Sunday, I will say as Emily did – I love you and here is your hug (~) it has strength in it that comes from above. No matter what you call yourself – we call you ‘His’.
gloria wethington - March 18, 2018 9:12 pm
Lots of BIG hugs and love from a Catholic also grateful for kneelers!
Carl, another pilgrim - March 19, 2018 1:00 am
I’ve taken to locating the towns you mention on the map. Helps give a face to them. But I know where Ozark AL is. My parents lived there for 27 years before they moved to Auburn in 2004. That’s where my son would go visit his grandparents after his mother and I broke up. It’s where my sister met her husband to be at Ft Rucker and where they were married in 83. It’s where my great uncle I’m named after died in 93 at the age of 102. Though I can’t honestly say I know the people of Ozark, it felt like home because my family was there.
Rhonda, from Dothan AL - March 19, 2018 3:39 am
Hey Sean, next time go to “The Diner” to get something to eat-you can’t miss it-it has a half-buried car the color of Pepto-Bismol buried in the front. The food is good, straight forward and the waitresses are good-call you ‘hon’ or ‘sugar.’ Just good food…
Patricia Schmaltz - March 19, 2018 12:59 pm
Sean, I give out hugs like they are breathes of air. LOVE hugs… and love your writing. Keep it up! Thank you. HUGS!!
Diana K Williams - March 19, 2018 3:47 pm
I love this one… Children are so pure and innocent. If we were only more like them life would be so much better.
Janet Mary Lee - March 19, 2018 4:40 pm
What you described…well, they are the best kind of miracles….
Tina Dyer - May 28, 2018 2:53 pm
I hugged two strangers in Walmart yesterday. Both were older gentlemen wearing military hats. ❤️??
Nancy - May 28, 2018 5:55 pm
We just sold an Inn after 17 years. I didn’t hug everyone, but I did hug many of our guests. I taught my kids and grandkids to hug. My late husband was a hugger. He hugged waitresses, neighbors, everybody. Nobody ever got upset about it.