I’m pretty sure every family has a Hugger, that loving relative who just can’t help embracing anyone who moves within arm’s length of her vast, substantial smile. Ours was Aunt Sophie. Her hugs were so breathtakingly tight that the first time I heard of the famous wrestler “Bone-Crusher” Lewis, I was convinced that he, too, must have been related to Aunt Sophie.
Up until I was about eleven, I was shorter than Sophie’s diminutive five-foot height. And so when she hugged the daylights out of me, I found my head nestled between her ample neck and equally ample midsection. Let’s just say that it was Aunt Sophie who first gave me an intimate experience with a Bosom Buddy.
I specifically remember one Friday night when she and Uncle Harold joined us for our Sabbath dinner. My mom’s special meal for such an occasion was rib roast, twice-baked potatoes, and her perfect lemon meringue pie. We all gorged ourselves, and when Aunt Sophie gave me her departing bear hug, I could swear her midsection had become even more capacious than when she’d arrived.
Once they left, it was time for Dad and me to retire to the den and enjoy the Friday night fights on television, sponsored by Gillette (“The Best a Man Can Get!”). Technically, Dad enjoyed the fights while I enjoyed Dad’s enjoyment of them. As a future English professor, I found the allure of boxing similar to that of two bullies in my school playground going at it to determine Top Tormentor. I knew I probably wasn’t cut out to be a street fighter when I realized that, to me, the coolest thing about this particular sport was that the Brits referred to it as “fisticuffs.”
But I did watch the boxers carefully as Dad described the strategies employed by the two brutes and commented on their footwork — and their hooks, head butts, and haymakers, whatever they were. It was that night, as I was staring intently at the two men on the screen, that suddenly and bizarrely a vision of Aunt Sophie popped into my mind.
“Look, Dad! The boxers are hugging each other!” I exclaimed. “No, Elliot,” Dad laughed, “that’s known as a ‘clinch’.” I didn’t have the vaguest idea what a ‘clinch’ was, but I sure knew what I was witnessing: two muscle-bound behemoths out-doing even Aunt Sophie in their cuddling.
“But why are they holding each other so tight?” I asked Dad in amazement.
He explained that a clinch was when two boxers grab onto each other, either because they want to prevent a further exchange of blows or they want to slow up the action because they’re both exhausted by the pummeling they’ve been taking during the round.
And now here we are, more than sixty years later. I’m sure that with the endless number of sports stations available to subscribers, there are still plenty of boxing matches to be viewed on our giant television screens. But the age of Friday Night Fights is long past. Fights today are all over our television networks, but they are no longer of the Joe Frazier vs Muhammad Ali variety. Instead we have in the center ring Israel vs Hamas, and in the corners we have Russia vs. Ukraine, Republicans vs. Democrats, MAGAs vs. Green Party, and on and on. And there are no punches pulled with these pugilistic opponents.
I’m not so detached from reality that I believe such combatants could be soothed by subscribing to Aunt Sophie’s hugging therapy; the bitter enmities engulfing us today seem more of the Bone-Crusher Lewis variety — or, more accurately, the Spirit-Crusher type.
But maybe boxers do have something to teach us about alleviating poisonous animosity. Today our battles — on both the international scene and the personal political level — seem to be all punching and no clinching. It took both boxers to initiate that pause to catch their breaths. And they both realized that to stay on their own feet, they must help hold up their opponent, too.
Sadly, social media has long encouraged us to always hit below the belt. I would like to suggest instead that we should all be sent, as in boxing, to a neutral corner for a long time-out, and then dance ourselves back to the center of the ring, touch gloves with our opponent, and hold each other up by discovering and discussing the countless American values and morals we have always shared. And we could even explore our differences — but in a new way that would put a premium on curious rather than furious.
Now, wouldn’t that be a knock-out punch against our current festering rancor, and a unanimous decision for brotherly and sisterly love?