On Wednesday I hugged a little woman named Mildred at the counter of Coco's in Vista, California. I'd never met Mildred until that moment.
I was paying the bill. I think she had ordered a pie and was waiting to receive it. Standing straight with her focus ahead, Mildred was about five foot two. Heavy set, big brown eyes, sterling teeth. She was seventy if she was a day. Purple dress, a gold chain set against the dark brown skin of her neck, the woman working for Coco's said something that made Mildred smile.
As I turned to go back to my table, I caught a glimpse of that grin, and then the chain around her neck. I said, while smiling, "That is one beautiful chain" and I meant it. It was bright and knotted, reflecting the overhead light. Then I said, "As is your smile. My name is Ed. What's yours?" In my voice and my demeanor was an inquiry only of kindness, nothing else. And Mildred knew immediately. I could tell by the expression on her face.
(Please note: Nobody could miss this expression. I've had a little bit of experience in looking at people's expressions, true. But if you're reading this, you would have seen exactly what I saw in this woman's face.)
She said, "Ed, my name is Mildred" and looked me straight in the eye.
Which is when I stuck out my left arm to place around her shoulders...
..as she stuck out her right arm to place around my waist.
We hugged each other for just a second, and I said, "Thank you, Mildred. May you have an extraordinary day," and she smiled, saying, "Ed, you do the same."
There are people all over the country that have stood in town squares holding signs that say, "Free Hugs," drawing dozens of people every hour to be embraced by a total stranger.
The difference between two strangers in a Coco's on a Wednesday in July was that the only "sign" we held was a palpable connection of kinship and love.
It is up to us to reach through our fear, our awkwardness, and take a chance on bringing a little happiness to another human being, even if it's a stranger waiting for a pie in Coco's. If it worked there, it can work in a thousand different situations that your heart is just waiting to explore.