Free Hugs

On Thursday night I was walking home from work downtown when I saw a woman on the corner of Washington and State holding up a Free Hugs sign. I’d already seen the original Free Hugs video on YouTube, so I had a little shot of happiness at seeing somebody out in Chicago doing the same and prepared to step hastily by and get to my train.

But as I passed by and saw her hugging people, my step faltered, and I wanted to turn back.

I really wanted a hug.

Here was this person offering some bit of comfort without requesting anything in return, without obligation, without any power-crazy or twisted ulterior motives (that’s the idea, anyway). You don’t see that a lot. You don’t get unconditional comfort or affection all that often.

It made me wonder if this is what the appeal of prostitution is, that you can pay someone to pretend to care about you for an hour. The difference, in this case, of course, is that Free Hugs are given without the need to receive anything in turn. I’m not shaking hands or giving out blow jobs because I can’t pay my rent. It’s done out of pure compassion as opposed to desperation/material gain.

And man, did I want to turn around and go back, to the point where I started crying there in the street, because I couldn’t believe that it was possible for anyone to give me something without desperately needing something back, without taking something away from me, and I was so, so tired; after the year or two I’ve had, I felt like I had nothing to give to anyone, and I couldn’t turn back and receive that hug because I didn’t have anything to give her in return.

So I cried on the way home on the train, and I thought about a world full of free hugs, of compassion without obligation, of being able to give of yourself without fear of having someone try and take it all away.

I would like to live in a world like that, or even a world where I believed that was possible.

One of the best heroines I’ve come across in a really long time is Nausicaa of comic book fame. She’s strong and compassionate and will fight if she needs to, but prefers negotiation and the showing of love and compassion over brute force if possible. I loved the idea that that heroine could exist. The idea of nonviolence and universal love as a means of changing the world is what draws me to stories of people like Ghandi or Jesus or even MLK. I want to believe that love can change the world. I write about bloody, violent, mean people who fight hate with hate; they’re the sort of monsters created by societies that use hate against hate, that keep order through strength and submission.

That is not the world I want to live in, and it’s not the world I want to believe in. I write about it because it fascinates me, and because I hope that someday, if I can understand it, I can find an alternative to it, one that I really believe in. I don’t buy the idea that all we need to do is stand in a circle and put flowers in our hair and dance around saying “I believe in fairies!” (what about health care? Who’s going to make insulin? Who’s going to do the laundry and build the houses and make great medical breakthroughs if we’re all standing around in a circle all day patting each other on the back?), but I know that there’s an alternative to all this blood and anger and hate.

Sometimes I feel that what I do with a lot of my writing is take all of the anger and hate and violence that I’ve absorbed from the world and try and excise it through writing. Otherwise I just turn it inward, and it seethes inside of me and treies to claw itself out, and it chews me to pieces. I’m tired of being full of self-loathing.

I want to be able to let good things in, to appreciate all that good stuff, all those free hugs, without the desperate fear that by letting those things in, by releasing all the fear and anger, I’ll become weak and vulnerable.

The only way to learn how to fly is to let everything go. I know that, but the fear of falling, the fear of falling… that’s the worst fear of all.

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