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.