From the streets of Ferguson, Missouri to the border towns of Western Europe, there’s been a lot of soul-searching this year – people wondering how humanity can move away from violence and hatred to a time of tolerance and peace. One Virginia man is doing his part – standing, blind-folded, on a public street – offering to hug anyone who’s in need.
Sixty-three-year-old David Reid began giving hugs on Charlottesville’s downtown mall after seeing a photo following the Ferguson riots.
“There was a picture of a white policeman in full riot gear, looking like Darth Vader, next to a little black girl in a very bright dress, and the cop asked her, ‘So what do you want?’ and she said, ‘I want a hug,’ and in that instant she cut through all of the nonsense. She was like human to human, heart to heart.”
He also saw an online video of an Australian man giving out hugs in an attempt to rebuild trust after a terrorist attack there. Reid was in the habit of meditating, and a few days later, he knew what he had to do.
“ Voice came down. You need to do this here. We need this here.”
He made a small sign:
“In times of such fear and division, maybe the most revolutionary and helpful thing we can do is give each other a hug.”
He stands, blind-folded, while most people pass him by.
“I’m a hugger. I mean my mom always hugged me, but he looks like a father figure. I didn’t have a dad, so I feel weird hugging older men.”
But a fair number take him up on the offer.
“ Might as well hug. It’s a way to conquer and break down all barriers and all walls.”
“Hugsw are awesome. Did you know it takes eight hugs a day to be emotionally healthy.”
“It’s nice. You don’t see it enough these days – people just doing something good.”
“I trusted him, and I don’t have pockets, so he can’t steal anythi- I trusted ng from me.”
“Because he’s just standing there , just letting people give him a hug. He’s blind-folded and + he trusts everybody. You didn’t hesitate. You just charged right over there. Yeah. I’ve already done it twice.”
“Oh boy more! Thank you!”
“You’ve hugged before? Oh absolutely. So is this addictive? Yes. So how many hugs have you two exchanged? I don’t know. How many days are there in the summer?”
Reid isn’t sure if what he’s doing has made a difference, although for some people he thinks his hugs have been healing. One woman came often, confessing to Reid she was homeless.
“ After a couple more months, she came and she said, ‘I got a job!’ And it was a job just taking care of people, but it was an avenue back into life for her. On some level I was thrilled that this person came and told me this, but I guess I was kind of a touchstone that she had been relating to for a few months and in this blind-folded way.”
She disappeared for a period of months – then came back.
“I could hear her coming, because of her voice – it’s very distinctive, and she came up and gave me a hug and said, ‘You’re not going to believe it, but I’m wearing a dress. I’m going to meet somebody and we’re going to go out and just have a good time, and I had this great privilege of witnessing this entire transformation. For the first time, she wanted to be seen, so I took the blindfold off, and she – black dress and heels – just turned in front of me, and it was just so heartfelt and so moving. I loved it!”
Reid has published a couple of novels, and he works as a caretaker in Nelson County, but for at least two hours a week, this is his calling.
“We need to have a lot more compassion, recognition of the validity of others as human beings in our culture. Right now, we’re suffering terribly, because we don’t have a lot of those things. This is, I guess, my tiny little part that I’ve been handed to do with or about that.”
David Reid, on the downtown mall in Charlottesville, where he plans to keep on hugging for as long as hugs are needed.