Why did I decide to use hugs as my theme for connecting with people? Why, because they are a universal language of course! It makes no difference if you speak English, Spanish, Swahili, Italian, or even sign language. A hug is an understood gesture. Even in countries where hugging is not accepted or acceptable.
Yet, just because they are a universal language doesn't mean that everyone loves them. I discovered this a few times during My Year of Hugs, but didn't expect to encounter it quite so soon on my Building Global Community cross-country trek.
At my first stop, there was a latecomer to the group. I was asked over and over again, "Can you please make sure you hug her as soon as she gets here?" I had a feeling I was about to make someone uncomfortable, but everyone else was quite giddy about this request. It felt very playful, so I agreed. When she arrived, I made sure to ask first, "Can I give you a hug?" She kind of looked around at everyone's goofy grins and gave me the side eye. "Sure" she said, although it was that drawn out suuuuurrrrrre, you know the kind where the person clearly doesn't understand the request and is afraid they are falling for some joke or something.
Apparently she didn't know about my journey. She thought we were all just gathering together on a Friday night and I just happened to be in the neighborhood. So, after the hug was over we just went about our night with no further communication between the two of us at that moment.
It wasn't until much later in the evening that she approached me again and said, "So, I just have to ask. What's with the hug?" I laughed and explained my journey to her. I let her know about the Year of Hugs I completed in 2011 and how writing my memoir sparked the desire to go bigger with the connections I made that year. I explained how in 2011, I was sharing love through my hugs but wasn't truly connecting with any new people. This time, I wanted to deepen my relationships using the hugs as a catalyst. I wanted to show the world that as humans we are all the same no matter where we live, what our religious/political affiliations are, or who we build intimate relationships with. We are all just looking to love and be loved. And, of course, there was the added bonus of travel for me!
After sharing all of this with her, she sat back and said, "Ah, I see. I am totally still not a hugger, but I have to say I admire what you are doing. I think the sentiment behind it is amazing." She had an agreeable look on her face that seemed to say, "I am behind you 100%. I want you to achieve what you are setting out to do. You give me hope."
And, I went to bed that night thinking, "This is exactly why I am out here doing what I am doing."