In this photo: Taylor Calomb, Trisha Jacobson, Mikayla Cerney (me!), Michael Kline, and Michael Chase
This year, for Memorial Day Weekend, I participated in the Kindness Weekend held in North Conway. It was the most amazing event that I have ever had the privilege of joining, witnessing, and learning from. People gathered early in the morning to prepare to give out flowers, smiley face balloons, bumper stickers, smile cards, ice cream cone tickets, and free hugs. Children, teenagers, and adults all came together. Although the day was overcast, the Valley shined with kindness.
That morning I decided to conquer my weariness of strangers, hugs, and hugging strangers. I was on a mission to give and receive as many hugs as I could. I was going to ask every person I passed if they wanted a free hug. It didn't matter what gender they were, what they looked like, or how they looked at me with a giant "FREE HUGS" sign, I was going to ask them if they wanted a free hug. Being a person that doesn't usually hug my friends, I was surprised by how easy it was and by the amount of people that were open to receiving a hug. I was also surprised by the amount of people who thought I was a crazy person for asking and declined. It could have been the fact that I was enthusiastically asking everyone on the sidewalk if they wanted a free hug.
One moment that morning will stay with me forever. I was holding my giant "FREE HUGS" sign and walking with two girls around the perimeter of Schouler Park. Fifty feet in front of me was a woman walking towards me with her arms outstretched. We walked towards each other, I moved my giant sign to the side, and gave the woman a hug. As we pulled back I saw that she was crying. She said to me "Thank you. I just lost my friend." At that I began to tear up and the two girls that had been walking with me joined the woman and I for a group hug. Then the woman left. I never learned anything more about her but at that moment I learned something about myself. If I extend the simplest gesture, I can help someone in need. The small act of giving a hug to that passing woman was more than just a simple embrace; it was comfort in a time of need. It connected me to her and let me help her through the moment.
Later in the day, everyone gathered under the tent to share stories about their morning. Ignoring my fear of public speaking, I took the microphone and told the group about the woman. I choked and started crying because I can relate to that woman. I have struggled with my own grief. I lost my mother three years ago. Grief is indescribable and it hurts.
I cried in front of all those people but I wasn't embarrassed. That moment had touched me deeply and I was proud to share it. As I cried, my friends Taylor and Michael comforted me with a hug.