Choosing To Love & Hug in the Face of Hate #HugsHeal
*all images taken from freehugsproject.com
I sat this morning during meditation and suddenly there was an image that brought me to tears. It was a video of the #freehugsproject in which Ken Nwadike, Jr. , an African American male gave free hugs to Police Officers and marathon runners who were mostly white earlier this year.
I cried while watching the video, and I cried even more this morning as I recalled it. It hit me close to home in a way that honestly not much else has for a long time. The tears I cried were tears of that overwhelming sense of joy and resilience that I emanate from my spirit when I’m at my best.
And I haven’t been at my best for a while now.
I’ve been sort of a recluse. Isolated, and not really and truly connecting with people the way I know how. I’ve been telling myself that I’m tired and just don’t wanna be bothered with people.
But I digress.
See, I too, am a hugger. A serious hugger. I’ve been this way for 40 years now, and those who know me have often commented on the way I hug:
“Ahhh, Verse hugs! The best.”
“I could really use a Verse hug right now.”
“Girl, you be hugging folks like it’s the last time you’ll ever see them again.”
It’s true. I tend to hug people with my whole heart and soul, as if to resuscitate them. As if to communicate to them with my arms that they can not just lean on me, but lean into me…and I will give them rest. I imagine this is what Jesus meant.
And don’t get me wrong – I don’t just hug folks I know, or when it’s convenient for me, or when they are the nicest people either.
For instance, I hugged the white lady who made me write a paragraph in front of her to prove I had actually written the literary analysis I submitted. She said it was “so clean, needed no editing”, and asked if someone had helped me. I told her no, that I’d written it at 3 a.m actually and was pretty tired. I still needed to prove to her that I was a pretty good writer.
I hugged her even after she told me she was wondering “what do you know about Whole Foods?” (you know, being black and all)
And I hugged her even when she told me thought I was coming from a place of “privilege and entitlement” when after years I spoke up to her about the disrespect I’d endured.
Even her. Yup, I hugged her as if her life depended on it. Even when she showed her surprise at my willingness to still embrace her after all she put me through.
I hug folks who remark in shock how articulate I am.
I hug those who say, “You're so cute, can I touch your hair?” And I even hugged the beautiful, gentle-spirited teacher who asked me, the only black person in our class “why I don’t talk ghetto.”
I’ve been questioned by friends and colleagues about why I choose to hug folks despite their ignorance, insults and afflictions against me. I’ve been laughed at, teased and mocked for it as well. And I get it. It really doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
See, I’m built a bit counter-intuitively to how the majority thinks: An eye for an eye, forgiveness is for the weak, and to open your heart and be vulnerable to those that have wounded you is just plain stupid.
I’ve been taught that Love responds with action that is held to an even higher standard of accountability than human comprehension. “Love everybody all the time,” as Bob Goff put it. I was created to Love. I was put here to be Love in action. It really is that simple.
Now, before you stop reading this and assume my credibility is at the bottom of an empty bottle of prescription meds, let me share my perspective:
We are not loved by God because we deserve it. Love is not something that can be earned nor unearned. Love is our birthright. Think about it. Even in the face of hate, to love anyway is of courageous nature. To understand fully that people are simply living out what they have been taught is to accept responsibility for our own position in life. Who I am intrinsically cannot and should not change because of what someone else does.
So, I choose to hug people. And quite honestly, it doesn’t require much thought. It’s second nature for me. This is my humble offering to the world, the way I show my love for God, and the way I claim Love as my religion. Love, for me is a healing balm. And I try my best to spread it all over the wounded. This is the stuff that penetrates my soul.
Now back to this video. When I saw Ken Nwadike hugging folks, I thought…Why am I not doing this? Why am I not out with a sign hugging folks during such a critical time?
Because I’m afraid. Because I fear being met with cynicism and ridicule. Because deep down, I’m still wounded. Every time I see another black life taken, I’m reminded that I had to write a paragraph to prove my literary ability. I’m reminded of being asked if I was in a gang, or if I had weapons during a routine traffic stop where I was told I did nothing wrong. I’m reminded that when I use my voice, I’m quickly told to hush and stay in my place – and anything other than that means I’m acting like I have privilege and entitlement, or throwing stones. That’s a lot to take in, and yet still love people.
But I’ll do it. Because I’m wise enough and brave enough to know that not all people of one persuasion are of the same mindset, skill level, or thought process. I refrain from generalization because it’s dangerous, and I’m not here to inflict harm on folks. I’m here to love. With my words, my art, my heart, and of course…hugs.