Free Hugs

On a chilly Thursday afternoon following my final class of the day, I shoved my hands in my coat pockets and began my usual speed walking routine, eager to dump my backpack on my bedroom floor and trade in my jeans for a pair of sweatpants. I had reached the end of a week-long marathon of projects, exams and inevitable post-election discourse; the sooner I got home, the sooner my Gilmore Girls binge could commence.

As I shuffled down the sidewalk, two guys perched on the stairs outside the Athens County Courthouse caught my eye. I couldn’t help but smile as I read their Sharpie-covered cardboard signs, but I diverted my eyes and continued walking, politely declining their offers for free hugs.

About 100 yards later, my inner journalist got the best of me. I turned around and sheepishly returned to the smiling fellows whom I had avoided just seconds before.

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Ian Robinson (left) and Jameson Platt (right)– two Athens townies who decided to put their recycled pizza boxes to good use in hopes of spreading a little love across campus.

As it turned out, Jameson Platt and Ian Robinson weren’t two twenty-somethings hoping to find love on the sidewalks of Court Street; they were looking to spread love.

“We were just on social media and we just felt that there was a disconnect,” Ian said. “The country’s kind of divided in the middle right now and no matter what’s going on in the world or what’s going on with the election, we just wanted to bring people together and spread the love and kindness and bring the community back together.”

Although the well-wishing pair had only given out a half-dozen hugs in the 45 minutes leading up to my arrival, they agreed that even those who passed up their irresistible offer reacted to the signs exactly as they had hoped.

“It’s interesting to see people’s faces because they either keep a frown or they smile and look away,” Jameson said, assuring me that I was not the only passerby to, well, pass them by. “There’s a lot of head-shaking going on today, but that’s all right. That’s what we’re here for! I think whether they come in for a hug or not they’re at least getting a smile back on their face.”

And as I went in for my free hug, I felt the power in the small act of kindness from complete strangers as their infectious grins spread an even bigger smile across my face.

“That’s really important to us– making sure that everyone feels loved. Hugs are always free,” Ian said. “We’re here together on this planet and we can fight, but whatever our differences are, we should just stick together.”

As the hundreds of finger-pointing, post-election posts continue to flood social media and the looming threat of political conversation at the holiday dinner table draws near, I urge you to take a step back from the hateful hullabaloo and spend the season focusing your energy on spreading kindness and positivity. Volunteer at a food pantry, share some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies with your neighbors or donate a gift or two to your favorite charity.

Oh, and never turn down the opportunity to give– or receive– a free hug.

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