“FREE HUGS” it read in gold and silver block letters. All down the side of the white cardstock sign are multicolored tally marks, marking each hug he has received. By the time he left Monday, after nearly two hours, he had 59. By Wednesday it had more than doubled.
He, Jack Guzan, student, holds the sign lax just below his chest, leaning his back against the black light pole. Some passersby side-glance and half-smile as they walk on, others approach cautiously, unsure, and stand a moment before embracing Guzan.
Most of the time it’s an unspoken moment, save for the spare words asking for a hug, or small talk in hope of making hugging a stranger less awkward.
No names exchanged, those who approach do so as strangers, and leave as strangers still. Strangers with a shared embrace and personal experience.
For Guzan, it’s nothing more than a free hug. No ulterior motive, no political or spiritual motivation. The large ornate silver cross that hangs from his neck holds no meaning either. Just a symbol of love and kindness, like a hug.
“I’m not really religious, but it’s just a reminder there is always hope and I can give love in any situation,” Guzan said.
Guzan was inspired by people he saw online. He decided he could do it too, and decided on free hugs.
It’s an opening experience to invade a stranger’s personal space. In America, especially in the suburbs, people appreciate and respect personal space. The wide open space between houses; wide, multi-lane streets and not brushing shoulders with a stranger.
Here, Guzan tears down that intangible barrier. He opens up and invites the attention of others, he invites them to stare upon him, something he has never done before. He is not a performer or a showman, he is not a lover of the spotlight, but rather a chameleon– not in the sense he changes colors, but rather blends in for protection.
“I’m not used to being the center of attention,” Guzan said. “There have been a couple of instances where I was. It’s usually my sister that’s the center of attention.”
As he speaks, a student, Jack Kuckleman, walks up and gives him a quick hug. He leaves and Guzan pulls out a red marker and draws a tally among the blue, green and yellow.
“It feels good [to be hugged by a stranger],” said Guzan. “I may not be changing their day, but they are definitely changing mine. It feels good hugging people, even if it is just a bro hug or just a quick one-two pat on the back.”
But some go in for a tight squeeze of a hug. Wrapping their arms around him. He hugs back, the sign still in one hand.
Guzan said he is going to keep this up. He’ll keep coming back to his spot in Fountain Square whenever he has free time, hoping to fill the board with many more marks and the world with much more love.