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Published January 12. 2013 09:05AM

Last week we talked about The Kiss. This week, it's The Hug.

Are you a "hugger?"

There was a time when I was not a hugger.

I was very uncomfortable if someone tried to enter "my personal space."

Pennsylvania Dutchmen had a reputation of being "stoical", meaning we weren't very demonstrative. We kept our emotions intact. That included hugging.

Well, my mom isn't Pennsylvania Dutch, so she was a hugger and I remember getting lots of hugs growing up. When I went to visit my grandparents on my dad's side, hugging ... not so much. Oh Mammy and I would cuddle when I sat on her lap and both Mammy and Pappy showed their affection for me in oh so many countless ways, leaving no doubt they loved me very much.

When I had a child of my own, I wanted to hug the living daylights out of her all the time!

But besides family, to think of hugging someone else was just out of my comfort zone.

Then along came my nieces and nephew. They're huggers.

Do you ever watch young people today?

They might have seen their friends in school a half-hour ago, yet when they meet again, they hug. Exuberantly and joyfully.

When my nieces and nephew see me, they hug me. When they see someone they know on the street or in a store, they hug. This generation are big-time huggers!

And it's nice.

I got an email this week titled "Free Hugs in Sondrio, Italy." It's a video of a loving group of activists holding signs that say "Free Hugs" set to the beautiful music of "Hallelujah" sung by Alexandra Burke.

In the video, at first it shows people doing their best to ignore the offer of a free hug. You can tell they don't want a complete stranger invading their personal space. But then, one person accepts, followed by another and another. I realized I was smiling from ear to ear and got all weepy eyed. It was just such a feel-good video about something as simple as a hug.

I had to learn more about this video.

A young man by the name of Juan Mann needed a hug. He had been living in London and had fallen on hard times, feeling depressed and lonely. Then a random hug from a stranger at a party one night made him feel like a king. He had to go back home to Australia. By the time his plane landed in Sydney, all he had was a bag full of clothes and a world of troubles. There was no one to welcome him back. As he watched other passengers meeting family and friends with open arms, smiling faces, hugging and laughing, he wanted someone out there to be happy to see him, to smile at him, to hug him. So he got some cardboard and a marker and made a sign that said, "Free Hugs" on both sides. He found the busiest pedestrian intersection and held up his sign.

For about 15 minutes, people ignored him. Then a woman tapped him on the shoulder and told him her dog had just died that morning and it was the one year anniversary of her only daughter dying in a car accident. She told him that she felt very alone in the world and what she needed was a hug. He got down on one knee, they put their arms around each other and hugged. When they parted, she was smiling.

He said that everyone has problems and his couldn't compare to hers, but to see someone who was once frowning, smile, even for a moment, was worth it.

Then I watched the video of Juan holding his "Free Hugs" sign to the music of "All the Same" by Sick Puppies. (Yeah, I know. Where do they come up with their names!) It's interesting to witness people's reactions to this simple expression of love.

The "Free Hugs" campaign was started and members are planting seeds in the minds of others, hoping that they will one day bloom into wide open, heartfelt love and kindness to all. Something our world sorely needs.

A year ago, I was in New York City and saw a young man holding a sign that said, "Free Hugs." He wasn't overpowered by a crowd of people wanting to accept or give a free hug to a complete stranger, but he did get a few. And do you know what that small random act accomplished? Smiles. From the giver and the acceptee. And from those of us who witnessed it. It just made us all feel good.

Yesterday I was in the grocery store, staring at the meat section, bemoaning to myself how expensive beef is. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see the sad smile of a friend who just recently lost her husband. Do you know what the first thing we did? We hugged. In that simple gesture, I tried to express to her all my love, care and support as she faces each day without her husband and friend.

Ten years ago, five years ago, I probably wouldn't have been able to do that. But somewhere along the line, I learned that reaching out to others in something as simple as a hug goes a long way to express what so many of us yearn for ... knowing someone cares.

"For one moment our lives met, our souls touched." Oscar Wilde.

Hug someone today. You never know who may need one. Maybe, even you.

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