Free Hugs=Lights On
Two different events took place last Saturday, March 31st that I could never ever forget…as long as we all shall live. These two events were completely equal in the ways that they affected my heart so profoundly.
“How could two events be more different?” you might ask. For the Free Hugs event, some very brave btc volunteers all met at Starbucks in Manhattan Beach (most of us were terribly late because of the meters everywhere.) Tip numero uno that I learned as an organizer…scout out the territory first, so you don’t have to ask participants of event for quarters that you don’t have ;) Thanks Vivek, you saved us! So we all met with our signs made and some of us wore our Free Hugs tshirts that gracious volunteer, Christine made for us at the last Free Hugs function. So for Free Hugs in the MB, we were out there at the base of Manhattan Beach Pier…some people filmed us with video cameras and digital cams. If we end up on some random news channel or the like, I may deny that we did this loopy thing called Free Hugs. At least I was in disguise (wearing sunglasses & hat). ;)
And now on a serious note…it’s truly scary how tough it can be to give our love to others in this world. Did I ever think I would be standing in front of a major pier and street intersection with a free hugs sign and with a free hugs t-shirt on…hugging strangers? Probably not. Did I ever think that I would be at a jail from 11:30pm to 4am walking just released inmates to an RV in order for them to have free donuts, a cigarette, a cup of coffee or for them to make a call to anyone to have them pick them up and take them home? Maybe not what I’d normally choose for entertainment on a Saturday night. Their homes could be on the streets, a car or an abandoned house….and to some of these inmates, home was in the jail…As I’ve heard before, the structure, routine can be a symbol of some sense of safety==outside is the potential threat of pimps, police, drugs, alcohol, traffic, abusive husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends. As mentioned in Supun’s blog, we heard a lot of stories. As volunteers for this event, our jobs were to listen. I found myself trying to hear the stories and wondering and visualizing what might have really happened, but what I noticed was that these people (just like you and I, but you and I in some supreme dire straits) needed to verbalize…it was important to talk things out…whether the person talking was angry with the system, telling us about how they were wrongly accused of something, or saying how much he/she missed his or her kids.
Do you wonder why I would go to something so positively warm and fuzzy such as giving free hugs to beachcombers on at the pier to going to a jail after 11pm at night? Any onlooker could witness that the scene had drastically changed at so late an hour…there were no smiling kids, no couples holding hands, surfers, families out for a day in the sun. There was darkness in the sky and in some hearts we met…but there we all were… volunteers standing by each other…telling our own stories, laughing and building in some ways a barrier and a safety net for these strangers walking our way. I would like to think we were a light at the end of the tunnel, a huge breath of fresh air, a saving grace for all the people we met. But in the dark night, I feel we were primarily subtle reminders of compassion… compassion to who some may feel should be unforgiven, not paid attention to…maybe even thrown out on the curb like a Sunday paper…not ever having a chance to be read. We all seemed to pick up that paper and read and understand what may have previously seemed blurry or scribbled through.
As we stood with our free hugs signs, it was also a test in kindness. Some may wonder…who are you giving hugs to? Do you know them? Many people asked, what are you doing this for? And the same questions came from the previously jailed…walking in darkness, but seeing a light…it was dim, but they saw it…and as I mentioned to our friend, Sonali, whom we missed so much at this event…it was like a re-birthing in some ways…yes, kinda corny, but the thread that tied the two events=Free hugs & Lights on together was a re-birthing of love…some people that we hugged joined us and held signs alongside us, some told us they will never forget that day and learned lots from the very action of…offering hugs to everyone (no strings attached). And same with the “Lights On” service project. Some wondered….what was our slant?…what made us come out there so late? I thought to myself as they asked this—what they really could be feeling inside was: “why would you want to greet us on your saturday night outside a jail? What good are we to you, the world, our families, our community?” All I know is…Friends who may feel friendless, remember that dim light you saw burning from the RV? That dim light also burned brighter in all of us…because we were able to meet you and intercept some harsh realities of falling out of jail…similar to falling from a skyscraper and being expected to land square on one’s feet.