My church often encourages us to use our talents for God. This is most visible through a whole lot of quilts. There are quite a few volunteers who visit with each other while making rather fancy quilts. The quilts are then given to nearby hospitals. The staff and volunteers there distribute the quilts to patients undergoing cancer treatment who have difficulty staying warm.
Personally, I lack any quilting skill. I may craft a cross-stitch project every once in a great while. I can certainly mend a shirt that has fallen on hard times. I can make do, but quilting is not where my passion lies.
I always thought that my contribution would come across in writing. I fancy myself a storyteller. I feel most like what God called me to be when I am working on a keyboard. (This is not to suggest that my writings are brilliant or heavenly. Just like me, my writing is a work in progress.)
I have found that I am a competent hugger. Cats, people that are homeless, parents; I hug them. I am not the first to embrace this ideology. There is a woman, Amma, The Hugging Saint. She hugs. We each have our own approach.
Now and then I will wear a button on my jacket. (I take it off when I do laundry and sometimes it takes me a while to put it back on.) I rarely smile or exude warmth from my expression. So the invitation to engage me comes from a small piece of metal. And yes, I take some flak for the button.
“Free hugs? Sounds like trouble.” “Free hugs? Watch out ladies.” I am not a creep. I am not a sexual predator. Calm down, folks. If you are not in need of a hug, then go about your merry way and God bless. There are plenty of people that enjoy a hug. This appears to be true in this holiday season.
-About a month ago I was walking briskly downtown. The ground was slippery from rain and I was scurrying to make my bus. Between the crowds, my aversion to signature collectors, and trying not to slip, I am sure I had a “leave me be” look. However, a man stood in my path. It was apparent he was set on engaging me. I tried to walk past him, but then I heard him say, “Free hugs?” I stopped in my tracks and turned around. At least, that was the idea. My foot hit a slick patch and I found myself on the ground. I shrugged it off, picked myself up, and gave this man a hug. I could not hear much above the bustle of city life, but he said something about free hugs being worth something, as opposed to all the other “free” offers out there.
-I caught my bus. I sat in the back corner. A seat and a half away, a very large man sat near me. I read my comic book, he talked to his wife; we left each other to their activities. Then I heard him say, “Free hugs?” He held his arms out, I leaned over, and we embraced. After that we shook hands. Then we fist-bumped. The large man, just like me, liked to be in physical contact with others.
-Last week I was scurrying through downtown and passed a man sitting on a street corner. He had a small bundle of things by him. He looked glum his feet were bare. I did not feel moved to do much more than acknowledge his presence with a glance, so I made my way to the intersection. From over my right shoulder I heard a voice say, “Free hugs?” I looked around, expecting it to be one of the businessmen or fellow bus-riders around me. Instead, there was the homeless man looking at me with desperation. I gave him a hug. A few seconds passed. Then he came in for another hug. I asked if he needed anything. He only hugged me tighter. We let go. Until he hugged me a third time. I quietly said, “I got you”, and let him share in a little physicality with another person. After the last hug he went back to his daily routine and I went about mine. It did make me wonder; how much human interaction does he get? If someone needs to fill that gap, I am happy to help.
When I wear a button like mine, it forces me to play nice. If I rage at someone for playing a guitar on the bus or talking too loud on their cellular phone, that is not ideal. Now, if I did that while wearing a “Free Hugs” button? It sends a mixed message.
Even on my worst day, I do not want to be a hypocrite. When I get my dander up or one of the thousands of people around me rub me the wrong way, my button nudges me to play nice. It reassures me. Sure, that person is being a little inconsiderate, and yeah, it would be nice if that driver had tried a little harder not to run me over at the intersection. Yet I would still hug them if they asked.
I have no great solution to cure homelessness. I have no bargaining powers to assist strife between nations. I do not have the therapy degree to help couples that struggle in their marriage or people that are overworked. I simply hug. Old men who are a year away from retirement, nieces, and coffee drinkers; I hug them all and more besides. If people stare or mock my button, so be it. If Jesus could show his love by hanging out with prostitutes and hugging small children, I think I can see my way to hugging anyone who asks.
“Love your neighbor.” I have plenty of neighbors left. Plus, once people know what I offer, I get a fair bit of repeat customers. I may not look as warm as a quilt, but I make do.