by Karen Cantrell, Behind Bars participant of Truth Be Told
I can only imagine the ultimate joy when a soldier returns home and tenderly wraps his arms around his baby for the first time. It will be the same for me when I return home and embrace my sweet little granddaughter for the first time. Coming to prison, you relinquish your right to hug another person, and physical contact is not allowed. By God’s grace and power there are exceptions to the rule.
The biggest thrill comes when family visits, and we get to hug and embrace before and after the time is up. The impact of these moments is enough to energize me for months. I dream of walking on the beach with my sweet kids arm in arm, looking for exotic treasures and sand dollars that have washed ashore and just being able to hug them any time I want.
Truth Be Told brought hugs, especially at graduation, and this became the absolute highlight of our week. The simple embrace invited everything good and wholesome and spoke with sincere warmth and acceptance. It just fulfills that deep longing to be saturated with life and love and to be truly welcomed, and nothing can take its place.
A hug is an outward sign of an inward promise that says:
You are valuable and appreciated, and I’m so glad you’re a part of this world.
I remember long ago hearing of a study done on the need for human affection and warmth with babies. One group was given all the attention and rocked and cuddled and sung beautiful lullabies. They were kissed and hugged, and they deeply bonded with the mother and others. They were nurtured and cherished, so they grew to be strong, healthy, sought-after men and women.
The other group had no interaction at all with another human being. They were not even touched at feeding time and were fed through some sort of bottle contraption. Every single one of those babies died.
Hugs and every form of love are the essence that makes the world an inviting place to be. It is so important that in fact it’s God’s #1 command: to love each other. It is a combination of faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of all will always be love.
I transferred to the Carole Young Medical Facility in early 2012, and I was mortified when an old friend saw me, sat down, and grabbed me in a warm embrace. She whispered in my ear, “It’s okay, Karen. We can hug on this unit.”
The atmosphere is filled with compassion and genuine care for others. Some are seriously ill or injured, and it inspires me to complain less and to be attentive in a caring way.
My good friend Mandy is only 30 years old with two young children and a husband waiting for her to return to them. She has two aneurysms on her spine and brain that cause her to have violent seizures. In one episode the seizure caused her to fall in the shower and break two vertebrae in her back, so she has to wear a big tortoise-shell back brace.
She also learned from a CT scan that she has liver and breast cancer. Being completely worn out from shaking and the seizures, which have also paralyzed her leg, she still has a smile and the greatest positive attitude.
My heart goes out to her, for I was in an accident and broke my back and several bones, but when I see her rise above the greatest adversity, my aches and pains are nothing in comparison. I go to her and whisper, “You’re my hero!”
The first time I told her, she said, “No one has ever told me that before,” and she gave me the biggest hug. It spoke volumes, and hence we’ve become friends with a deep bond. We make it a ritual to seek each other out and give hugs and encouragement.
She wanted to know why she was my hero, and I told her that I had never seen anyone with such a determination and with such dignity hurdle huge obstacles and rise to the occasion each morning with a smile and with a knowing that the reward is so worth it.
She and I have the same goal in mind: To go home to our children and be a great mom. Mandy told me two days ago that she wasn’t afraid to die, she was afraid that she wouldn’t make it home in time to tell her children how much she loved them.
It is my greatest pleasure and dream to be holding my children tightly and being together for the grand celebrations of a lifetime. Like the soldier who is fighting for our country’s freedom, when he returns and holds his baby, so will I be, someday, and when I look into my little granddaughter’s sparkling eyes, I will be looking at a little piece of heaven. When I’m huddled up with them in front of a blazing fire on Christmas morning, I will smile this huge smile and remember these moments and think to myself…
Never Underestimate the Power of a Hug