Ingrid Betancourt's hands speak a language all their own.
Not a foreign language.
Not French or Spanish or English.
But a universal language that we in this country – or, more accurately, in certain cultures in this country – have failed to master.
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Betancourt's ordeal as a hostage in the jungles of Colombia didn't mute what she obviously absorbed as a child: the tender art of greeting a cherished family member.
Were you watching as she reunited with her adult daughter Melanie for the first time in six years?
Betancourt's hands started at the top of Melanie's forehead, lingered on her crown, moved to caress and cradle the back of her head, all the while pulling her close.
Their embrace was nothing short of melodious.
I did not grow up in a family of accomplished huggers.
My parents were kind but stiff, preferring quick entanglements of arms – almost like a clanking of bones – to the more lingering chest-to-chest hugs.
To this day, a good, solid hug surprises – and delights – me.
I have little truck with side-to-side huggers or, worse, their lackluster cousins, the one-armed huggers.
Stranded for hours in a Madrid airport a few years ago, I stared fascinated as families greeted their returning loved ones.
Such effusions. Such melding of flesh. Such abandon.
Translated, their greetings said: You are here. You are real. Let me drink you in. I cannot get enough of you.
Cupping, stroking, cradling
The art of greeting runs through Ingrid Betancourt's family like a sweet breeze.
An HBO documentary aired on CNN Sunday evening showed the family at the funeral of Betancourt's father while she was still a hostage.
We watched Ingrid's niece – no older than 3 – using both of her tiny hands to caress her mother's tear-streaked face, begging her not to cry. “No llores, mamá. No llores.”
And on the day Betancourt landed in Bogota, she and her mother held each other's faces, as if they were committing every curve and crease to a kind of tactile and imperishable memory.
Perhaps one of the things that allowed Betancourt to survive mentally and physically amid the horrors of captivity was a life-long memory: her mother's hands cupping her face, stroking her hair, cradling her head.
You are here. You are real. Let me drink you in. I cannot get enough of you.