Free Hugs

Today I stepped off the bus on my way to work downtown, and was greeted by what looked to be a homeless man, trying to sell a community newspaper and asking for money for coffee.  I looked at him, gently shook my head, and gave him the warmest smile I could.  As I crossed the street I thought of Juan Mann, the guy that started giving away free hugs to strangers.  These free hugs were a way to connect himself with the people around him, to help people realize that we are all connected, that we all need love and warmth.  We are a community.  I am connected to that homeless man, even if I don’t know him, even if I don’t understand his circumstance.  Instead of giving him my loose change, maybe I should just give him a hug.

I felt my eyes moisten as I crossed the busy street.  I looked around me.  Everyone was rushing about, on their way to work, focused on their destination and on their own busy day.  I did not feel connected.  I am part of something yet I don’t feel plugged in.  Are any of us? 

I really believe that success in the environmental movement will be achieved partly by realizing our connections to each other.  Why should I save those on small island nations, by sacrificing some comforts of my way of life here, when I will not be the one who will lose my home by rising waters, my whole country even?  I will be safe and dry here on the prairies.  Why should I sacrifice for them? 

It is simple.  I am connected to them through our shared humanity.  They suffer, and we all suffer.  I am also connected to non-human life, which is also at stake.  Experts tell us that extinctions are expected to rise horrifically.  How can I be a part of this magnificent creation of life and not care? 

I decide then and there to strengthen my connections with strangers.  I want to chit-chat with the coffee shop girl, make conversation in elevators.  I must thank the bus driver every single time I get off his bus.  I talk to the vendors at the farmer’s market, and thank them for offering me and my family a new choice.  I will push myself to make conversations when I normally would not.  I will listen to people.  I will sympathize with people.  I will congratulate them on good works.  I will connect.

Yet I still feel torn.  I see these huge global problems and very little movement towards solving them.  The strength of the status quo way of life wears me down.  But then I look into someone’s eyes and smile at them, and they smile back.  We are all in this together.  We are all connected.  We all have the capacity to love.  We must have the capacity to find a way. 

In the end, it can all just start with a free hug.

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9 thoughts on “Free Hugs

  1. We have been too insular for too long.

    The coffee shop girl appreciates the chit-chit. It makes her feel less like a vending machine and more like a human being interacting with another human being.

    It’s strange, though. The best part is that we’re meant for each other. You, me, and everyone else. Eve was created so that Adam could reach out to someone like him, so that he could have a connection beyond living harmoniously with creation. She was created for him. And it continues — we are all meant for one another. The Bible compares people to a body — all of its parts serve a purpose and belong to the body, though some are more obvious than others. That homeless man, the coffee shop girl, you, me, we’re all parts of the body and it doesn’t help us one bit to be tearing each other apart.

    Sorry to get philosophical/theological. For me, issues of the environment and human conflict are related to my belief in God, and my belief in creation, and the fact that I think we’re called to kindness and stewardship. And that as a group, we human beings haven’t been doing the best job these past few hundred years.

    Great post, Sherry. I am proud to have such a smart and thoughtful sister.

    • We are meant for each other! I like the analogy of all the people as a body, and that it is self destructive to lets some parts suffer so that other parts can thrive. Have you heard of Gaia theory? It has a similar type of analogy. I agree that we need to be much better stewards of this miracle of creation, and maybe that starts by loving each other more, loving strangers more.

  2. Such a beautiful post, Sherry! I admire your desire to connect more with those around you, it is something I want to do also. I have real troubles with socializing and connecting with people, but connecting online and through community gardening has really helped me open up more. Also, I watched this amazing TED talk by Brene Brown which helped me see that being vulnerable is a path to connection.

    I often try to feel connectedness with those around me, who I may have glanced past before. I try to be grateful for everything I have in my life. Someone built my house/apt, my computer, my clothes, everything I use and own someone else made. That alone helps me see how interconnected we all are.

    I’m moving into a new neighborhood next week, and I want to make a real effort to get to know the neighborhood residents and shopowners. I want to cultivate a real sense of community, both online and in the real world. Thanks so much for the reminder to connect in real life, with strangers.

    • Thanks Lynn! I like your point how we are all connected to people in the things we use and the items and stuff we own. Someone built that, someone got the raw ingredients, someone shipped it. How many people were involved along the way? It is such an interesting thought. Good luck with your move, I hope you find it is a friendly and easy-to-connect place! 🙂

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