The phrase, “Am I nuts?” was the first thing that came out of my mouth at 6:00 am yesterday morning. This advertising business contains a lot of idealism. Sure that client will approve the ad with a happy Hitler holding a bunch of balloons (they didn’t). Of course you’ll be able to get that shot with a remote control helicopter (it crashed). Hug thousands of strangers while dressed as cuddly animals to raise money for charity? No problem, uh, somebody else will do the hugging right?
When Spring set up an internal contest to find a replacement for our very fun first day of spring fundraiser, Boink Day, we got a lot of great submissions. But a hug-athon was the clear winner. Full marks to Springer, Justin Van Mulligan for his submission. The plan, simple. Every time a Vancouverite would hug a cuddly-dressed Springer, Spring would donate $1 to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. We held Hugs For Hunger in downtown Vancouver. Much of the activity centered around the Art Gallery. Passers-by were invited to kick in their own money too. One kind soul actually gave us $100 for a hug.
This being our eighth year of Strange Acts of Kindness we’ve learned most of the lessons that go with holding weird fund raising events. One is, there are specific roles. Three kinds. People to sell participation (in this case, Hug Pimps) then there are those who do the “thing” – Huggers. And finally, collectors. They count the hugs and take in donations. These jobs have always been rotated among Springers as the day goes on.
Yet in the days leading up to Hugs for Hunger an air of nervousness descended on Spring. Few were volunteering to be huggers and many were just refusing. Turns out, the idea of hugging hundreds of complete strangers while wearing a fuzzy animal costume is a little out of most comfort zones. Turns out, it’s out of mine.
Turns out that in one of life’s oxymoronic truisms, you can’t get behind a great idea from behind it. You get in front of it. In a furry bear suit. In front of a core sample of humanity with open, fuzz-clad, beckoning, hugging arms.
Which is what a bunch of us wound up doing yesterday. And it was one of those life experiences that has so far, defied words. Yesterday I had the incredible experience of embracing and feeling the embrace of hundreds of people who I have never met and will probable never see again. And found that each hug was like a tiny touch of their souls. I felt, and everyone who had the same experience agrees, that I could look inside of these people a little. For added sensory acuity, the suits provided lousy vision so there was a lot of hugging blind where other senses kind of took over.
I had hugs from people who felt good about hugging because they felt good about life. I had hugs that felt like that person was getting permission to be affectionate. Hugs from people who at that instant challenged themselves to something they were afraid of, and congratulated themselves in that hug. I hugged people who just really needed a hug. Hugged those who hadn’t had human contact for quite some time. Hugged the happy. Hugged shoppers who got something unexpected for free. Hugged little kids. Got firmly rejected by a guy who clearly could have used a hug. Hugged by the reluctant and the aggressively enthusiastic alike. Hugged an old man with a long beard and a turban and a cane. Hugged executives in suits and delightfully bewildered Japanese tourists. For some reason there was a large group of Native kids downtown yesterday and all of them lined up and gave me the most wonderful warm and sincere hugs of the day. And given the high quality of many other hugs, that’s saying something. An older woman among them said to me, “we must touch hearts when we hug” and we did.
The whole thing, in its entirety has left me a still-grinning idiot.
I’ve been lucky enough to count up some great experiences in life. Hugging for Hunger now stands among the top of that tally. Sorry about this trite sounding rhyme but the best drug, is a whole lotta hug.
Thanks to all the Springers, the clients who kicked in, BooLala costumes for the deal on the furry suits, Jim at John Casablancas Institute for providing your very helpful extra personnel and thanks to every one of you who came in for the hug.
Chief Cuddling Officer at Spring