Hundreds Flock to Richmond Hill for a Hug from their Hero
By: Alannah O'Neill, Photography by D. English (MA Center)
When Kelly Cutrone invited me to meet Mata Amritananandamayi (Amma), “The Mother of Immortal Bliss,” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. “I’m gonna meet Kelly Cutrone!” I announced to my father excitedly at family dinner last Sunday. “Who?” he asked, bewildered. “She’s a PR lady that’s repping Amma” I said. “You mean Amma the Hugging Saint? You’re gonna meet Amma the Hugging Saint?” My father shouted. That’s when I realized that Amma is kind of a big deal.
Amma-- aka the Hugging Saint-- had a stop off in Toronto during her first North American Tour. The philanthropist and humanitarian, famous for her healing hugs, was holding court in Richmond Hill—and followers had ventured from far and wide for the chance at a moment with her. Her mission is to spread love through simple gestures—her motto's are “love and serve.” She has built hospitals, schools, hospices and homes for AIDS patients. She’s also raised money for disaster relief in Haiti, as well as helped support Tsunami survivors. People of all ages and ethnicities, some clad in bright saris, others in head-to-toe white—rows upon rows of shoes outside the main hall gave some indication to the sheer number of people who had made the journey to see Amma. Full disclosure: I have bad timing. I didn’t get a hug. It was kind of heartbreaking to tell the truth, because watching from the sideline, you could see that when Amma hugs you, she really hugs you. She holds on tight, whispers some words and hands you a blessing (in the form of Hershey’s kisses, rose petals or an apple). Those that got hugged, while I was there, seemed to have emotional responses—grown men were reduced to tears. I didn’t get a hug, but we did share a moment. As Amma glided past me toward the main hall, a formidable presence despite her five-foot tall frame, I caught her eye. She smiled. It was a simple, split-second exchange, but I got the sense I was in the presence of greatness. Oh and Amma—if you’re reading this—next time you’re in Toronto, I’m coming to claim my hug.