I mentioned my “Free Hugs” sign in a previous post about “the Blahs,” but not why I carry the sign. Its a holdover from college when our leadership club president suggested it as something to do around midterms. Well, I’d never heard of it before (this had to’ve been around 2011 or 2012), but when I got looking, it seemed pretty cool. So, it ended up being only me and her out there in the main atrium for two hours holding signs.
In my case, I propped it on my roller-cart with a large beanie baby bear in case somebody wanted to hug that instead. Not much business (so to speak), except for a few repeat contractors who were working on the electrical system that week and passed by quite a few times, wondering if we were serious. I was amazed that more wanted to hug me than the bear. All in all, an interesting day, and I gotta admit, it made me feel a bit better giving that bit of relief to others.
When we had a school spirit or appreciation event and it was my turn to organize something social, I pulled out the Free Hugs signs again, and even some Hershey’s Hugs to give to people. We had quite a few takers, though I did feel like the odd duck because only one other person was willing to give out the hugs. Still, it made some people feel pretty good and at least made them smile.
Off and on since 2012, I’ve had my “Free Hugs” sign. Naturally, when it’s cold or flu season, I put it away. I pull it out of my car and put it on a chair or my travel cart for people to see. Plenty of people read it, and either smile, look quizzical, chuckle, or scoff. Some mumble that nothing’s for free and give me the hairy eyeball. Some are just beaming and come over with their arms out, ready to go. Some just come over to ask what it’s all about, which is part of the reason I’m explaining today.
What made me pull the sign back out after those two school events, maybe a year later, was working on my master’s thesis at the diner. I’d see whole families come in to eat and the very first thing they’d do is give their drink order and then all of them get on their damned cellphones and ignore each other. When I looked around, everybody was just in their own world, not talking to anybody. This went on for days, and, though I was a bit scared I’d be breaking some rules, I decided to bring my Free Hugs sign out again. Early one morning before work, I brought it into the diner and set it up in front of my table. One of the waitresses was my first hug, because it’d been a lousy night shift and she needed it.
I started carrying it there ever since, and at other coffee shops and diners.
I feel like an old curmudgeon when I think “when I was younger…” but I do know people actually talked to each other when they went to places like diners and coffee shop (people-watching is awesome in a diner–you can have great conversation with “strangers”). My chattiness makes that a problem at times, so I do my best to let other people initiate. But if anything, the sign’s a good conversation starter and I’ve had some great conversation over the years.
It’s a shame to me to see young people hanging out in a group after school and they’re all on their phones instead. I mean, you’re right there with your friends, aren’t you? Aren’t you supposed to be talking and enjoying your time before homework or sports or family obligations come knocking? Hell, my friends and I lived so far apart in high school we squeezed out every moment together, and though I was a bookworm that really wanted to read more often than not, that’s the one time I’d put the book in my purse and just chat.
We’re addicted to those smartphones and cellphones and are missing out on real living human beings around us. Apparently, my best reason for being out and about (other than writing) is to let people know that though I don’t know them, I acknowledge their existence and want them to have a good day. It doesn’t matter whether they ask for a hug or not, or are already having a good day or not. Its just a way to let people know that they matter without me being too intrusive. I’m not exuberant enough to run out there and hold the sign above my head a few hours, but I’ll sit it there as an invitation to conversation or hugs to whoever comes around. Sometimes I have repeaters, some I know just hug me out of reflex because they need it or they’re used to it.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t much of a hugger for many years, but there is something about a hug. It lifts your spirits, its tactile comfort that doesn’t have to have any other meaning than “I am here for you.” That’s what I like about it. I admit, I’ve been rather popular around finals or mid-terms at school because somebody’s stressed to hell or a professor overhauled a testing format…plenty of reasons. Though I’m not religious, if somebody wants to pray, I’ll do that with them, too. I don’t have a problem with that, and why should I? Somebody needs a little help, and I don’t really have any money to do more, so I’ll do what I can.
I also acknowledge that some people just aren’t huggers, like I wasn’t. So, and especially because of shy little kiddos or their parents, I offer hi-fives, fist-bumps or handshakes. It makes it a bit easier on the parents, I think, too, as we live in difficult-to-trust times. And its funny to see the boys try to bruise my hand when they hi-five a bit too hard (hee hee). It’s also useful for someone stuck on the phone, neck tilted to hold it and a coffee cup in the other hand. It’s quick and kinda a “seize the day” gesture…at least, that’s how I see it.
Hell, hasn’t science talked about how tactile human beings are, how we need connection to other living breathing human beings? How we live in a community, like any animal of the animal kingdom? We’re connected electronically, but beyond that…I have to wonder, in the next 10 years, if one of those super-online connected people would be able to pick out their parents faces from a crowd when coming to town for a reunion.
I admit, there’s days when I wonder why I’m doing it, when I think I must look damned childish and all kum-bah-yah, or like the Uni-Kitty thing on the LEGO movie, trying so much to be all happy and perky and pleasant all the time. There’s no such thing, and even when she got older, I’m sure Pollyanna gave it a rest on being chipper and glad all the time. I do feel people think I’m childish when I do it, but when that first person comes up in the morning and is like, “hey, you’re giving out hugs” or “oh, cool. Hi-five?” and I actually give it to them–it lets other people know its okay.
I give “Free Hugs,” or at least the possibility, in order to spread good vibes. Especially with this nasty election cycle and so much anger and vitriol out there, I had it out. I admit I don’t take it everywhere with me (into school with the kids would be really awkward, and carrying it around the store or mall might get me in trouble–different places, different vibes and all). But if I have a place to sit a few hours where I can mingle, that’s where I bring it.
Hugs to all out there, from me and my new friend, Lewis. It’s strange. My first hug today was a dad with his daughter and a turtle, which she dropped a couple of times and shook around, so he gave it to me instead. I gave a hug and got a turtle.
Some Mondays just baffle me…but I won’t knock it! I was going to the pet store anyway for my dog (I should’ve named her Gozer the Destructor) to get her a new rubber frisbee. Ah, that serendipity I keep reading about in The Artist’s Way…as long as dad don’t throw a fit at our new housemate, then it should be okay! I don’t want to let it out in the wild just as it’s finally getting cold!