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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Free Hugs Day

One year ago I wrote a short blog post on hugging people and the need to hug more (click here to read).  At that time I had never heard of Juan Mann or read articles on him.  Maybe you haven’t either…  Basically he’s just a guy that noticed a bunch of unhappiness in his world, and he’s been making a conscious effort towards change.  He started in his hometown, Sydney, Australia, where he made a big cardboard sign that had two words:


He held it up high, and waited for someone, anyone, to approach him.  He literally just hugged people.  He’s been hugging people since at least 2004, and has made his campaign and view know to the world.  Oprah even had him on the show – you know that’s big!

He did the offering, and he found out quickly how receptive and in need so many people were/are.  He just wanted to put a smile on a stranger’s face.  Here is one of his stories:

So I got some cardboard and a marker and made a sign. I found the busiest pedestrian intersection in the city and held that sign aloft, with the words "Free Hugs" on both sides.

And for 15 minutes, people just stared right through me. The first person who stopped, tapped me on the shoulder and told me how her dog had just died that morning. How that morning had been the one year anniversary of her only daughter dying in a car accident. How what she needed now, when she felt most alone in the world, was a hug. I got down on one knee, we put our arms around each other and when we parted, she was smiling.”

On September 10, 2007 a college student on Facebook organized a “Free Hugs Day” event for the nation.  Literally more than 3,000,000 were invited, everyone just inviting more people from their Facebook friends list!  Somehow I got an invite and happily hit ‘accept’ with a big exclamation point.
The day approached, and I apprehensively decided that I would do this “Juan Mann style”.  I made a sign!  My plan was to stand on one of the busiest areas on GaTech campus (i.e. Skiles Walkway) from 1-3pm after my classes and before I taught a biology lab.

The time got closer and I felt tension mounting in me.  For unknown reasons, I was scared.  Scared to hug people?  No.  Scared to look silly?  Not too much.  Scared to stand alone and do something new?  Yep.  Never one to let fear slow me down, I nervously marched to Skiles Walkway, set down my backpack, and raised my sign above my head.  I looked around, still nervous, and hoped that someone would want to hug… ME.  I needed a hug now!

And then a streak of support appeared, my friend Steph!  She was wearing a homemade Free Hugs shirt!!  We were each other’s first “Free Hugs”; it was great and so needed.

Free Huggers Jessie & Steph
(picture taken on later repeat occasions, not the first nervous endeavor!)

In less than 2 minutes we were both hugging people.  Then I was hugging more.  And more!  A few comments I heard:

“My day has been absolutely horrible.  I definitely need a hug.”
“I’m nervous, I’m going to an interview, wish me luck!”
“I need a hug.”
“I’ve been waiting for this day all week!”
 “You guys are awesome; I admire what you are doing.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“Are you really doing this?  Can I take a picture to show my wife?  She’ll be so excited!”
“What is this and why are you hugging people?  Really?  Awesome, I so need a hug.”

After about 1.5 hours I had hugged at least 60 or 70 people, but saw huge smiles on more than triple that.  I saw so many smiles in place of otherwise blank stares or frowns that came from people that I didn’t even hug or talk to at all, but just them looking over at Steph and me.

I walked away with the the biggest smile that was cemented on my face for the entire rest of the day and every time I think about it.  I loved the experience, and definitely plan to do it again.  It was one of the more rewarding things I have done in a while.

Diverse Free Hugs with my friends Tamara & Steph

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