"Josh Walker, will you write something for Apollo Connection Co - on connection?"
When Stef sent me that message, I took a big gulp. Where would I start? What would I talk about? What would be the goal of the piece? After a moment, I laughed...I knew exactly what to write about...
I’d love to tell you a story if that's okay?
A few months ago, I stepped into a Wawa in the middle of the afternoon. Quickly ordering my quesadilla, I settled into a small group of people waiting for their orders. After a few seconds, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning quickly to greet whom I thought was my friend. I found myself staring into the tear-stained eyes of a middle-aged woman. She sniffled slightly, looking embarrassed. and choked out, “I just got a call that my Mother went into hospice. They said she’s only got a few hours and I don’t know if we can make it to St. Augustine in time…I saw your shirt and I wondered if I could have a hug?”
At the moment, I realized I had been listening to her words, but I had also looked down to find a little boy holding her hand and staring straight up at me with confused eyes. My mind snapped back to the current happenings…
“Of course you can,” stammered out of my mouth as I wrapped her up. She held on. After a few long seconds, she stepped back and smiled through the sadness, “thank you, I haven’t had a hug in days, I needed that.”
My heart broke. I don’t have any other way to state it. As I stood there in the middle of this Wawa, finding myself in sadness for this stranger and her son, I felt something hit my foot, the little boy had dropped his bag of chips. I kneeled down to pick them up, and as I did, I felt two little arms wrap around my neck earnestly. As this little boy gave me the warmest hug, my heart shattered again. He grasped with fervor, not letting go.
We knelt there in that moment for what seemed like an eternity. After we separated and I handed him back his bag, I stood to find her tear-filled eyes looking right at us. “Thank you.” was the next thing I heard. I couldn’t come up with a carefully thought through response, only a choked out, “you’re welcome.”
We said our goodbyes there at the counter. She picked up the little boy, reached to grab their food, and headed for the exit.
I stood there looking down. Realizing what had happened. I can’t count how many people have asked me why I wear the “Free Hugs” shirts. I still don’t have a terrific answer. When questioned, I typically express that it had to do with understanding how society would respond to an invitation for physical connection.
I wore those damn shirts for one full year. 365 days...and probably an extra 60 just because it felt like a piece of me.
You know what's funny, I stopped wearing those shirts so often and I miss that part of life each and every day. I miss being a living, breathing, size large, v-neck, red, blue, green, black, yellow color wearing invitation to hug and hold and love without an agenda.
I learned to just hold people and allow myself to be held wherever we stood. In parking lots or Walmart checkout lines...friends apartments...homes of strangers...at baseball games or just walking down the streets of Nashville, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, Adrian, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Miami, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Macon, Valdosta and a hundred other places I've been blessed enough to step through.
My purpose isn't to teach people about connection. There are so many humans better educated and qualified to take us through the science of how connected everything in this incredible universe is. I'm just a simple storyteller who felt called to live out an invitation to the humans around me.
There's no blueprint or study guide I could write that would "teach" you how to connect with one another in a more purposeful way. All I've got is this...
Open your arms, to yourself and to others. If they step in, accept them as a gift. Hold them tight, give them a little shake, feel their heartbeat as it joins in unison with yours. If they choose not to step in, hold them exactly where they stand. Use your energy well. Let them know they are seen and known and felt.
We‘re being handed a chance to make a dent in the world. A chance to do something beautiful with our lives, to use our breaths for more, and inviting the humans around us to join in is usually a good call.
Sometimes that starts with a hug.