Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a tastefully-edited version of the journal I kept during the time I spent in Iceland. You can find all the entries and more on the “Iceland Transcribed” page.
After I left the cafe, I went in search of the Einar Jonsson garden. But I still felt shaky from the PTSD, craving affection and reassurance from another human. In a word, I desperately needed a hug.
So, after I bought a postcard for my friend, I did something I never thought I’d do, something I definitely wouldn’t do at home in the states: on an extra map in my pocket, in large, dark letters, I wrote FREE HUGS, and carried the sign chest-high in front of me.
I didn’t even get to the end of the block before a Middle Eastern woman in nice clothes turned to me, said, “Aah?” and held out her hands. We embraced, and she said, “Thank you.”
She was the first of so, so many.
Locals and travelers, groups and couples and singles, young and old, attractive and not, men and women all approached me. Some shouted from down the street, “Free hugs?!” and raced towards me, arms flung open. Some initiated only with eye contact and turning towards me ever so slightly.
A girl in her preteen years ran out of her house and across the street, only to shyly say, “Um, hi?” once she got to me. A handsome man spoke to me in a language I didn’t recognize, and I didn’t understand a thing he said, only his laughter, his smile, and his open arms.
A young woman on a bike kissed my neck, an old man kissed my cheek, a drunk Polish man gave me his sunglasses as his equally drunk friend hugged me several times, and twice I was asked in broken English, “What is hoog?” and my miming of an embrace was greeted with laughter and, “Sure, why not!”
Some asked me why I was walking around offering hugs, often hugging me again when I explained why. I had my picture taken twice (that I know of): once with a large family from Florida, after hugging all of them; and once by an older man in a doorway, who told me I was making the world better.
Most said thank you. Some didn’t say anything at all. But they all smiled.
I’m not usually the center of attention, so being in the spotlight was a little nerve-wracking. I was stared at, smiled at, and given a share of bewildered looks. In all kinds of languages I could understand the smiles and chuckles and pointed fingers. I once overheard a woman remark to her husband, “I’ve seen that on TV before.” But people smiled, and laughed, and gave hugs, and loved.
And I was brave, three seconds at a time.
During my wanderings, I found the Einar Jonsson museum, and spent a good ten minutes meandering the open garden, breathing deep when I saw the trees on the hill by the gate, and admiring his attention to details of the human form.
All told I spent about three hours wandering around the streets of downtown Reykjavik, holding that sign.