Friday, June 25, 2010

Free Hugs

“And for one moment, our lives met and our souls touched.”
-Oscar Wilde

I can’t figure out what the tears are about.  It’s a simple concept taped on a grainy video, and yet, I'm sobbing. 

I am not a crier.  I sit Kleenex-less at tearjerkers and get nervous before funerals, lest it appears that my dry eyes signify my lack of grief.  This qualifies me as the black sheep in a family where tears are displays of love. Did you write a moving card? Check dad’s eyes.  Is mom happy to see you? Are there tissues involved? We raise our glasses in honor, using a red eye rating system to rank our words.  I come from a family who cries at Hallmark commercials, airport pickups, in times of joy, in times of sorrow, and the spaces in between.  I come from a family where it’s a badge of love to be unable to get through the toast, and Kleenex is bought in bulk. 

So what is it about this ‘Free Hugs’ video that has my puppy nervously licking tears off my cheeks?
 I go down the checklist:
  • Tears of Joy or Sadness? A bit of both I think
  • Is it that the background song is one of my favorites? It doesn’t hurt...
  • Unbelievable cinematography? Definitely not
  • Triggers some painful childhood memory? Nope
  • Triggers an overwhelming desire to become a professional ‘Free Hug’ giver? Yes…but why?

I mull it over all afternoon.  I ask my mom, who forwarded it to me laced with her own tears. I read an email from my uncle…the tears now spread from California to Arizona to Virginia…ah, and the video gets 4 stars.

As I watch the video again, it hits me.  It touches a hole in my life, a yearning for connection, for family, for someone to wrap my arms around and grip with all my might.  It tears at the edges of loneliness and trails its fingertips over lumps of loss.  It awakens a grief for those I can’t hug anymore and a homesickness for the arms that live plane rides away.

It touches a cord of existential sadness, mourning for a world that rushes into technology, shedding human connection by the side of the road.  It reminds me that phone calls aren’t warm and texting lacks shared laughter.  It reminds me that email will never squeeze my hand and that hugging never shows up on my to-do list. 

It begins with a pain of those who walk quickly by, wary of the strange man offering hugs.  My eyes blur as I wonder, would I walk the other way? Am I so hardened that I would judge ‘creepy’ as I picked up my pace? And is it smart to be less trusting or merely one more brick in a wall that not only protects but isolates? It’s the look on the volunteer’s face, crestfallen with diminishing hope, good intentions unrecognized and a joyful soul unshared. 

And then I cry as the hugging begins.  I cry at the tentativeness, the nudge of emptiness propelling their feet as they warily extend their arms.  I cry because I want to believe, like Anne Frank:

 "It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."

I cry for those who need a hug and don’t know it; who need a hug and have no one to grab.  I cry for those whose pain might be lessened with a shoulder to learn on.  I cry for all of us who toil in adulthood, striving for an independence that so often is accompanied by a party of one.  I cry for the elderly couple slowly hobbling over for a stranger’s embrace, seeing my grandparents’ faces as I ache with loss.  I cry for the times when I'm not there to offer hugs, for the moments of loneliness that I can’t fix. 

I cry for the little children hidden within these grown-ups, the sweet innocence that knows hugs cure better than Tylenol. I cry with a longing for human touch, for my own hug account that dips dangerously low at times.  I cry with yearning, glancing out my window just in case there are hug volunteers I can grasp to my chest.  I cry because a hug is so simple, so easy, and yet so crucial for joy.  I cry because a hug is free to give and priceless to receive.  I cry with the awareness that we all carry scabs of hardship and scars of grief, missing puzzle pieces that can only be found in those we meet along the way.  I cry as I ponder my lost pieces, and wonder how many strangers I’ve bypassed who held my answers in their pockets.

I cry while smiling as they run to embrace in the middle of the courtyard.  I cry because I know that feeling…the inability to wait one more second, overflowing with a love that necessitates immediate hugging, powered by months of missing and waiting.

I cry because it is in the simple that I find the holy.  It is in the small gestures that I find faith. 

And I cry as I hug my puppy and dial home…because in the absence of human contact, long-distance hugging will have to do.

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