I have always been a hugger...friends, clients, seat mates on long flights...doesn't matter. It's easy for me. In fact, sometimes I have to stop and remember that not everyone is comfortable being hugged. I realize personal space issues may preclude some from opening their arms to another, and I respect that, although I believe everyone is longing for connection, rather than separateness.
My hug value was recently stimulated when I saw a You-tube video of a young man holding a sign that read "Free Hugs" while strolling a busy thoroughfare. At first, he was ignored, but eventually the hug fest began and grew quickly. If I was on that street, I would have surely accepted his offer. I loved watching the easy connection these apparent strangers made with the hugger when they let down their guard and allowed themselves to be hugged.
After enjoying and watching it several times, this hug video stimulated an idea for a fundraiser for my Relay for Life team that raises money for the American Cancer Society. There were quite a few tourists in town this holiday week-end, so sidewalk pedestrians were in high number. We set up on the sidewalk on Main Street with a sign that advertised Hugs for a Cure and a bucket to accept donations. It turned out to be an even more inspiring time than I had anticipated, and not just because we collected a nice sum of money for our cause. What I did not expect was how uplifting it would be to hug so many people. I noticed my joy soared with every hug I gave.
Some of the huggees were friends, but most were total strangers. As I offered hugs, many a passerby did not even look my way. Others, glanced in my direction and said "No, thank you". When someone responded to my offer with "Sure, I'd love a hug", my heart sang. What I soon realized was that it was the shift from anonymity to connection that touched my heart. Part of the joy for me was to know that many people are willing to reach out, be touched and to touch another....without knowing each other's life stories, let alone approving of one another. It was a great example of unconditional connection.
The more I greeted pedestrians, the more I enjoyed the experience. Those stepping up to be hugged were from all age groups. Some were fellow cancer survivors like the woman that is now in remission after Stage 4 ovarian cancer. We held on to each other for an extra long time.
One woman shared she was on vacation alone and now she didn't feel alone. She came back for a second hug a bit later.
One woman wept on my shoulder as she told me how much she missed her mother who passed away a few months ago.
Another was an elderly man that dropped twenty dollars in our bucket, holding back tears as he shared his daughter's cancer story.
Several of our huggee donors were wee little ones that would drop a dollar in the bucket and then oh so sweetly wrap their little arms around my neck as I stooped down to their height. One little girl (that I will never forget), joyfully leaped into my arms and hung on. She apparently had no personal space issues.
At one point, a group of a dozen Harley motorcyclists were waiting for the traffic light to change so I called them to stop for a hug. One fellow while on his bike, put out his arms to mimic a hug, so I ran out to the street and filled the space he offered.
Another young man that I pre-judged to not be a likely hug candidate due to his multiple piercings, tattoos and hard edge style of dress accepted my hug offer without hesitation. Sweet.
During both days of my hug shifts, I was exhilarated. It became easier and easier to offer a hug and remember not to take it personally, if I was turned down. Missing out on some hugs did not detract from those that occurred. Those that chose to engage with me, hopefully walked away feeling the same joy of connection that I did.
So if you ever see me on the street, in the airport, conference room, theater lobby, grocery store or anywhere else, feel free to open your arms and offer a hug....I will surely accept.