National Hugging Day makes me think back to Free Hugs Day.
A couple months ago I participated in Free Hugs Day in NYC with my friend Kim Ann Curtin, aka The Wall Street Coach. Inspired by the video about the man who was the first to hold up the Free Hugs sign, which lead to the Free Hugs Campaign, she made a Free Hugs sign and planted her feet at the 95th Street and 5th Avenue entrance to Central Park right by the reservoir.
This was six years ago but it all started in 2004 with a guy named Juan Mann. Down on his luck, his fiance had just broken up with him, he found himself back in his hometown with no home and nothing but the clothes on his back. He was feeling pretty sad and lonely.
Seeing everyone else being greeted with open arms from friends and family, he decided to create a cardboard sign for Free Hugs. The first lady that responded to his little cardboard sign was experiencing the anniversary of her daughters death and had also just put down her dog who had been ill. He realized after that when she walked away smiling he was smiling too.
Kim told me about her first year. She was a bit scared to go out there by herself, but right away, strangers from all walks of life came up for hugs, “it was just hug after hug after hug. I had these two young kids join me that loved it. I had joggers come and take my sign. One girl ran the park with it, came back after she did the whole loop and she didn’t have the sign. I’m like what happened? She said somebody wanted it so I gave it to them, do you have another one? So she was running and hugging people through the entire park. It was hysterical. It was just amazing.”
She adds, “I love doing it. I love the experience it gives to people…We had Queen Latifa there last year. She just stumbled into us as she was going for a run in the park. Meredith Vieira, I hugged her one year…The people you think are going to come in for a hug, the crunchy granola people who have the ‘love’ buttons, they walked right past me but the high end, you know they run a small country, come running over. Again, just constantly being struck by how you think you know people and they just surprise you all the time.”
It’s these spontaneous acts of kindness that bring us together and tear down the walls between “us” and “them.”
Every year since, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Kim has gone out with friends and lots of Free Hugs signs. I joined her crew this year at Columbus Circle to give free hugs and it was pretty awesome. My video isn’t nearly as grand as the awe inspiring original, in fact there’s a reason why I’m putting mine first.
Now here’s the original with a score by Australian band Sick Puppies. It’s pretty sick as in pretty awesome. I cried the first time I saw it. Well maybe the second time too. 🙂
I say free hugs everyday! Human rights, animal rights, we all deserve the right to be loved! And we all need hugs, lots of hugs. Have you hugged someone today? If not, what are you waiting for?