Free hugs now available at Aspen Saturday Market
August 5, 2011
ASPEN – Economic blues have fueled fears of a double-dip recession. Political strife has reached a boiling point. Social media has replaced personal interaction.
What’s a person to do? For Barry Gordon, the solution is simple – offer free hugs. A hug, the longtime Aspen resident reasoned, will bring at least temporary respite from the woes of the world.
Gordon and friend Nancy Nevin will offer free hugs at the Aspen Saturday Market and will advertise the offer by each carrying a sign and wearing a T-shirt that says, what else, “Free Hugs.”
“Just for that brief moment, we can bring people together,” Gordon said. “It always brings a smile to everyone’s face. Whoever frowned when they’re giving a hug?”
Nevin and her husband actually hatched the idea last summer when they were having dinner with Gordon and his wife. Gordon lamented how life has become so impersonal and how he had seen a video clip of someone in Italy giving free hugs. “It looked like something that would work here,” he said.
So he and Nevin went to the Aspen farmers market one Saturday last year with signs offering free hugs. At first, people seemed “intimidated and scared,” Nevin said.
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She also got out of her comfort zone. “It’s not a comfortable thing for me to do. There’s a real vulnerability to it and touching strangers,” she said.
But they got over their inhibitions about offering hugs to strangers, and the strangers quickly warmed to the idea. Nevin noticed a lot of international visitors to Aspen were quick to embrace the idea. Gordon said at the end of the day there was a good cross-section of people seeking hugs – young and old, local and visitor.
“One little boy turned to his mom and said, ‘Mommy, can I get a free hug?'” Nevin said. Other times, they sensed that someone needed and appreciated the hug: “There were a couple of people who came up to us and said, ‘I really need a hug.'”
That’s the rewarding part for them. Most people get it. They understand the offer of a hug is a simple random act of kindness.
Nevin bought the “Free Hugs” T-shirts for herself and Gordon this year for his birthday. That sealed their fate for a return to Aspen Saturday Market. They will meet at a coffee shop Saturday, then walk through the market with their signs and T-shirts, providing hugs to any and all comers.
The advertising works. While the Nevins were modeling the shirts pn Main Street this week, a young woman passing by stopped and said, “I need a hug.” Nevin obliged. Other people passing by in vehicles smiled at the sight of the signs and T-shirts.
Nevin and Gordon acknowledged that they have to steel their nerves to go back to the market and offer hugs, even though they know the simple rewards of making people happy await them.
“You put a smile on your face; you feel a little awkward at first,” said Gordon, a 26-year resident of Aspen. He knows he will run into some old friends and imagines he will hear remarks like, “What’s the matter, Barry, don’t have a life anymore?” He laughs off the prospect. A hug, after all, tackles all problems.