I got a free hug today. It was from this dude with a goofy smile standing sentinal against the sour-grapes commuters pummeling forward, heads down, eyes boring holes into concrete without even an ounce of recognition of their walking neighbors. So this dude. He had this sign. Looked like he found a cardboard box behind a dumpster, cut off a flap and scribbled “Free Hugs” on it with a pen. Just went over and over each letter until it was legible in the fading evening light. He stood in front of the Target in Columbia Heights. Just standing and smiling and holding his sign. He didn’t look vulnerable or embarrassed. More blissful with a hint of anticipation. I looked him right in the eye, which is impossible to do with most strangers in DC. Nobody looks, let alone smiles, at each other. It’s kinda sad.
Anyway, me and Free-Hug Guy lock smiles. He says, “Happy Thursday.” I say, “Thank you.” And I walk by. Ten feet later, I turn around because, why wouldn’t I? I see some dude go for a free hug. It was friendly and there was back patting as guys do. And then I want a hug. So I turn on my heel and get my dang, well-deserved free hug from the Free-Hug Guy, who had a mighty fine hug, incidentally. It was, indeed, an embrace. Free-Hug Guy left me with an objective: “Spread the love.” I will try. Because I felt connected, which is something I struggle with as a single person. Connection. It can be fleeting, but it’s wonderful when it happens.
As I walked up the four flights of stairs to my gym that is finally not riddled with lines for lockers, treadmills and the 12.5 lb hand weights, I wanted to turn around again and go back to Free-Hug Guy. To ask him why he was giving free hugs. To find out what compelled him to make a sign and stand out in the wind and cold with a warm smile and hug strangers, small, large and sometimes smelly. To take a picture of him and his sign. Maybe a picture with him. But I didn’t turn around. Because I think the answer is as simple as his act of kindness and connection. And sometimes it’s good to leave it at that.