Saturday morning I woke up with an idea burning in me. I wrote about my inspiration in Who Loves You? And then the need to do this – this crazy, crazy thing! – galloped down on me. Time, I knew, was of the essence. I knew that if I let myself get to Monday, real life would start back up and, because it would be about 10,000 times easier not to do this lunatic thing, it just wouldn’t be done.
Life would just go on as usual. And I didn’t want that to happen because this felt BIG.
What I wanted to do was to go out and offer up love – to anyone who wanted or needed it – in the most non-threatening and nurturing way I could think of. I wanted to reach those who might be out of sorts, or on the fringe.
Now, explaining what I was doing to my (somewhat skeptical) boyfriend was another thing entirely. Let me get this straight, he said. You come up with this idea, you know, 10 minutes ago, and now I’m supposed to spend my Sunday filming you in a teddy bear costume giving hugs to people on the street?
He worked until midnight on Saturday. And then on Sunday morning, I ever so lovingly woke his ass up at 8:30 a.m. by bringing him coffee in bed while wearing the teddy bear head. (So hot!) Come on, I said, let’s go give some people some love.
I should explain here that my boyfriend does not have quite the threshold that I have for potential mortification. He’s Canadian, which loosely translates into not wanting to be too much of a bother.
My idea was to go down into People’s Park, a homeless park where I live, and to reach out to the homeless, the mentally ill, the runaway kids – and naturally anyone else who was needing a little love. I wanted to do it without words, silently, and with the intention of simply not letting go first.
They could hug me as long as they wanted or needed to.
Well, let me tell you – it was insanely intense, that day. Putting myself out there, arms open, I was electrically vulnerable, and the fear came on fast and hard. At first people reacted to me as if I’d lost my mind. The kids in People’s Park? They have pit bulls, as companionship and protection. And the pit bulls were not amused by that giant bear suit, to say the least. Neither were the kids. (Drug deals were going on all around. They probably thought I was a cop in disguise.) My fear intensified – it was primal, and it was everything I could do to not drop the whole thing and run. Except I couldn’t run. I could barely see.
But then people warmed to me – homeless folks, the jaded street kids, guys in 49ers football jerseys (apparently there was something called a “Superb Owl” going on that day?). My sweetie kept wanting me to head down to the ritzy part of town, on 4th Street, you know, where the Sur la Table and Apple Store are. And I was like, NO! The happy little families on 4th Street don’t NEED hugs, but eventually I caved. And then it turned out a few of them did need hugs, too.
One woman told me I had made her day. Another guy with a tattooed neck said that, while he wanted to hug me, he couldn’t. The people who wouldn’t acknowledge me in People’s Park were far more comfortable reaching out to me on Telegraph Avenue. I guess it was more neutral ground.
A lot of people hugged me for a very long time.
A number of people thanked me. And while I had intended not to speak, I found myself wanting to – having to – thank them as well. And I noticed that, while people obviously couldn’t see my face and so there was no need for me to smile, I found myself smiling nonetheless.
I was getting loved right back.
The very best was this guy who sat at Peet’s Coffee & Tea on 4th Street, and who looked like the rest of the people from a distance, but who watched and watched me for a very long time. Finally, he was brave enough to get close. And as I reached for him he said quietly, You don’t want to hug me. So I reached my arms out higher, and he came in for a hug. And when I waved goodbye to him, he waved back at me like a child, and then turned and waved again. And I thought, There it is. He is who I came for. I am done.
When we stopped for lunch and to charge the camera’s battery, I got an email about a new comment on the Savor post. I said to my sweetie, Guess who just commented on Savor? And, a little exhausted, and frankly, a little fucking over it, he was like, I don’t know – the Queen? The Queen of what? I responded. He became somewhat intrigued: The Queen of the Internet? he asked. Yep. Pretty much. Turns out The Bloggess (a/k/a Jenny Lawson) was sweet enough to leave a comment for me. And I think it was then that it kind of clicked for us both that this was real. That we were making art, and that, in fact, it could touch other people on this world stage.
And then on Monday morning, the manager of The Frames – the brilliant Irish band I fired off an email to Saturday morning asking to use their song, a song that helped me through some dark days – returned my email saying that “the lads” would be okay with my use of their song in documenting the experience. It was pretty frickin’ amazing.
I’m almost done with the project now. I am going to post it as a valentine for all of those who maybe don’t have a handful of names to conjure up when asked, Who loves you? And for those of us who do.