An elbow bump is not a hug

two guys wearing masks and greeting each other with elbow bump, an elbow bump is not a hug, alternative to hug, poem about hugs during pandemic, no handshakes or hugs, elbow bump instead of hug, steve grove, chaplain

A poem from Steve Grove, a member of our Spiritual Care team.

An elbow bump is not a hug.

It was kind of fun at first I guess; a novel addition to social grace.

As new restrictions settled in; no handshakes now on elevators or in halls.

Replaced by bumped elbows, awkward as a missed high five.

Then whittled down over time to the aseptic waving of a folded arm, the broken-winged twitch of a grounded bird.


An elbow bump is not a hug.

A sputtering video of Hollywood Squares; appointed times via Zoom or Skype.

At first, a new creative way to connect a face, a voice, a smile.

Technology’s miracle connecting quarantined cells across the country, across the hall.

Snickering pranks played with cameo appearance of shared memory objects from different times when touch was valued currency.

“Better than nothing” we console ourselves and we are right and yet we notice the split-second delay, that blurs the window to the human heart.

Something eaten and sustaining and yet not fed or fully nourished.


An elbow bump is not a hug.

The staggered communication in a world reduced.

Where once the superhighway hummed with picnics, happy hours, gatherings filled with laughter, spontaneity overflowing in ebbs and flows as lives, and experiences interplay and overflow shared spaces filled with conversation food, and wine.

Now a quiet subdued street with one-way signs and rules restricting wiping of our eyes our nose, washing our hands incessantly removing grime and filth of earth and life that gift us our humanity. Unrecognizable specters in the hall of stormtrooper masks and shower caps, expressionless eyes that do not show pain or smile buried below layers of PPE.


An elbow bump is not a hug.

Time has passed since Covid-19 first barged in and visited unannounced.

It did not take all things at once, it gave some too, the gift of time and new routines, clean air and quiet fox-filled streets.

But like a guest who stays too long some novel things have now grown old.

I have repented my request for time less-structured, less routine.

I crave airport baggage lines, and earthy smells, unshowered bodies on metro buses.

I want to wait in line for a table to imbibe overpriced drinks with friends.

I want family to visit without fear that I may kill them.

I want a future imagined further out than next week.

I want spontaneous human contact; the resounding smack of high-fives doled out for meaningless accomplishment.

I want to bring some small physical comfort to your quarantined fevered room.

An elbow bump is not a hug.

When life’s juicy earth-filled moments sprout, the milestones of life and death, new beginnings and disappointing ends the doppleganger elbow bump is revealed.

Its feckless insufficiencies laid bare.

When tears carve tracks on fleshy faces or laughter spills from joyful guts, I want a hug.

I want the feeling of your arms around me.

I want to smell the hops on your breath and wipe the snot from my arm left by your tears without fear of infection but rather with celebration of life lived, unsheltered, unrestrained, humanity embraced, Prometheus unbound.

I have not forgotten. I will not forget.

An elbow bump is not a hug.

Steve Grove is a chaplain at Hennepin Healthcare, primarily serving staff, patients, and families on the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU). He also helps care for those arriving for triage services in our stabilization room. He is also the Independent Living Donor Advocate at Hennepin assisting kidney donors with their donation process. Outside of Hennepin Healthcare, he co-pastors a multicultural congregation on the Northside and is the Principal Tubist with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra.

Thank you for sharing this honest and heartfelt poem with us!

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  1. Sheila Moroney on May 17, 2020 at 3:43 am

    Amazing, Steve! Your poetic gift is only surpassed by the spiritual gifts you share with patients and families everyday. Thank you.

  2. Anne Carter on May 23, 2020 at 6:25 am

    So beautiful, Steve!

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