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Mon, Sept. 23

Column: A simple hug can bring needed healing

Gimme a hug. It's nearly the New Year.

We don't hug much in Prescott and the U.S. - far less than in many lands.

My mother always hugged me. She was Irish. I remember as a youngster when our team lost a baseball game, I came home, hid and wept. My mother hugged me. Not only did she embrace me then, but whenever the world set me down on the seat of my pants.

So it was a stunner when I recently read an article about novelist Fanny Burney in 1811. She underwent a breast removal mastectomy with no anesthesia. Burney lay down on an old mattress with a piece of linen placed over her face. She began to feel a sharp instrument. Burney said she remained in "speechless torture" for the entire operation. The pain had been so great that she vowed to write down everything that had happened. This proved agonizing, but Burney wrote so something would be done to ease such suffering.

Between the lines of Burney's writing, someone was hugging her. She didn't describe it as such, but the reader could easily sense that a friend often embraced her in her struggle.

The novelist's ordeal was both moral and mental. On the moral side in those long-ago days, people were often seen as sinful creatures. A good person must struggle against one's inner devils and complain as little as possible.

On the mental side, the article concentrated on a single thought - our shortcomings must not center on our natural weaknesses. We must not accept a herd psychology. Men and women must not feel victimized. Such fault-seeking was viewed as tribal.

Burney spared nothing in her search for an answer to pain. She was saying that all of us must investigate the sting of hurt. We must comprehend what our suffering is all about.

Some find no fault with either view of life. If a person is religious, he or she should follow that path. If more attuned to taking a skeptical stance regarding the body or other challenges, an individual has a duty to search for truth.

In hunting for such conviction, I came across a story from Sydney, Australia. Kate Ogg was told by doctors that her son, Jamie, had not survived after a premature birth. They placed him across Kate's chest so she could reconcile herself to his death. But she could not accept her son's passing and hugged Jamie for two hours. The newborn suddenly opened his eyes and grasped her finger. The doctors returned at Kate's loud calls and insisted she was seeing only a reflex from a dead child. But Jamie's eyes remained open, and he was seen to breathe. The physicians said his life was saved by her hugs.

Some of us hug regularly. It is spontaneous - from the heart and soul - and has great physical and mental healing power.

My family members are huggers - perhaps because we lived in Europe for so many years. Huggers bond. My wife and kids laugh when they hug. So give someone in Prescott a hug. It is the perfect gift for the New Year. And it won't cost a penny.

J.J. Casserly is a longtime newsman and author.

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