Yes, the evening was eclectic. The food spread and the people spread. Much like world music where the beats of Africa mingle with Jazz mingle with strands of Indian Classical mingle with the song of the Chinese Moon mingle with the sounds from Scandinavia … You get the picture.
Having filled my plate, I was sitting at the corner of a large table, having dinner with lots of lovely people. There was a man sitting at the other edge of the same corner. I did not know anyone there. Ditto was his case. So we shared a conversation as we ate.
He was not fluent with his English and I do not remember which country he was from. Ukraine maybe? I don’t know. Soon in the conversation it emerged that he is out of work and in a financially uncertain state. The worry, tension, loneliness he was going through was clearly apparent. It was not there in his facial expression, nor explicitly there in his voice, but it was there. Being a foreigner in USA myself, it was easy to feel. The combination of being a foreigner in USA and work being a question mark, results in tension hanging over the head like holly all the time. Or is it mistletoe?
While he shared his data, (where from, doing what), and I shared mine, what was apparent from his face was actually only gratitude. He was glad someone was talking to him and talking so nicely. He said so too. I have often received this gratitude when talking normally and humanly to people who are feeling unsure about their English. I have experienced it in conversations in India too.
In his effort to express that gratitude, the way he was looking at me, smiling at me – frankly it became somewhat discomforting. I looked away and tried to interest myself in the conversations at the rest of the table. But I knew fully well that he was not trying to flirt with me. It is just that when we are culturally somewhat misplaced, we end up behaving and expressing ourselves at times in a manner that seems awkward to the other person. I did return to him too, time to time.
Soon people had eaten up their food and everyone was standing around in the hall, at the gate to part, wishing each other goodbye, thanking each other for the evening. That man came out and gave a big hug to one of the hosts of the evening (much to the alarm of the man receiving the hug!).
I piled into the car with my friend, the host who had been hugged and a few others. Comments were laughingly exchanged about how craaazy, wierrrd that person was, who had hugged. What was he trying to do?!
I did not say anything.
I wish I had –
That man was very very scared. And he was lonely. Maybe he was filled with the dread of having to go back to spending time with his worries alone, as he was about to step out of the gathering. And he was grateful. Very grateful, for the oasis of togetherness that the evening had given him, in the desert of his loneliness. That is what he was conveying via his hug.
And I wanted to say –
It is perfectly ok, and natural, and human, (and wise) for a man to hug. There is absolutely nothing wierd about a man who hugs goodbye.
And it is perfectly ok, and natural, and human for a man to feel really really scared.
I am grateful that despite being alarmed the host received the hug gracefully.