I saw a Free Hugs t-shirt for sale on line at a fairly reasonable price, and I said to myself, “I gotta get me one of those!” (Yes, I know. My grammar sometimes flies out the window when I’m speaking to myself. So sue me. I usually know what I mean.)
Since then I’ve worn it a couple of times, most notably at the recent Seattle Pridefest on Capitol Hill. I figured that after the Orlando shootings, people were going to need hugs. I knew I did.
I must have been hugged by 20 strangers that day. What an amazing experience. Some would come up and shyly ask for a hug. Others would see me from a distance, throw their arms wide, and rush at me like a linebacker. Those made me laugh as well as smile. During each hug, we’d say, “Happy Pride!!!”
I feel healthier, happier, for having spread some love. I think this has become my shirt of choice for all large gatherings. It was kind of funny because my nephew was visiting from out of town, and half the time when someone would hug me, he’d assume it was someone I knew, and he’d be mildly insulted that I didn’t introduce him. Then he’d remember the shirt.
One time I even forgot about the shirt myself, and this guy in a slightly rougher part of town came at me with arms outstretched, and I briefly thought the worst. I think that may have hurt his feelings, and I still feel bad about it. That hug did not feel as good as it should have. I wish I could turn back time and give him a more genuine hug. That shirt brings with it a certain responsibility that I hadn’t anticipated.
That caused me to wonder what would happen if someone wanted to hug me whom I didn’t want to hug, someone very dirty or with open sores and rotting teeth or something. What would I do? My shirt didn’t say, “Free hugs unless you look like you could be contagious.”
I have to admit that some of the huggers, after a day-long festival in the bright sunshine, didn’t smell as good as they probably usually did, but I still found the experience worth it. And in the end, the hug gods seemed to be watching over me. Everyone who came up to me seemed to do it with an open heart and a genuine spirit.
I did see several people look at my shirt and then hesitate a bit. I think they wanted a hug but were afraid to go for it. I’d smile at them, but I certainly didn’t want to cause discomfort. A hug should never be forced. I hope I at least planted the seed in them for the next free hugger who crosses their path.
Sending you a virtual hug, dear reader, if you want one. We’re all in this together, after all.