“Jubilant and exuberant is the melanin of our skin. From despair we have arisen.”
~ Andrea Vocab Sanderson
Tuesday night Rudi and I had the joyful opportunity to help create a street mural at Travis Park. Heading downtown, I didn't really know much more than that we were going to support San Antonio Poet Laureate Andrea Vocab Sanderson in getting one of her poems painted publicly, somehow, somewhere, downtown at the park.
We arrived at 9:00pm and were pleasantly surprised to see 20 or so volunteers there to help with painting and documenting the process. After checking in with Vocab, in her radiant yellow, we connected with our former next door neighbor, Anthony Dean Harris, who was in charge of the design and lettering of the piece. Then we had the pleasure of visiting with another neighbor, Andi Rodriguez, Vice President for Urban Planning for Centro San Antonio, and the one who had the vision for this piece of public art and was instrumental in making it happen.
We were each given a brush, roller, and paint tray, filled with bright yellow paint; our task was to paint in the hand-drawn chalk markings on the street, indicating the outlines of the 8-foot square letters spelling out Vocab’s poem. The message filled the whole length of the block on three of the four streets surrounding the park, and had to be finished by 5:00am, in time to accommodate morning traffic. So off we went!
I started on East Pecan Street with the first letter J and carefully outlined it, then steadily began to fill the inside of the letter, covering up the dark dirt and debris of the city and the tire tracks of countless cars and VIA buses with a thick coat of that bright yellow. What a sense of excitement I felt when I finished that first letter J! You might even say I was jubilant!
A few letters down, Rudi was working on the letter A and next to it I noticed that the letter N needed another coat of paint, so I continued working there with a growing sense of accomplishment I hadn’t experienced in a long time. The simple act of rolling this vibrantly hopeful dandelion color across the asphalt of the dull gray street was such a simple yet profound experience. Knowing that I was helping Vocab’s powerful words take on newer, larger dimensions made me feel connected to something much bigger. Knowing that at the end of this there would be a message of hope, compassion and love, spelled out for all to see.
By then they had turned the first corner and moved over onto Jefferson Street, making pretty good progress. Because of Covid, I haven't attended any of the protest marches that have taken place in recent months. So this event gave me a chance to feel like I was taking part in communicating my hope for a more equitable world. I felt even more deeply touched while painting the letters of the word “melanin", because it momentarily allowed me to feel into the skin of those who look different from me on the outside, my loved ones and strangers, alike. And to connect to them heart to heart.
So much of the public discourse in our culture today is polarized, which brings great sadness to my heart. Yet here, for a few hours, I felt my desire/our desire to focus on that which we have in common, our true humanity, as we all painted that feeling into the streets of this city we love.
Shortly after midnight, the effects of the physical exertion, the late hour and the emotional roller coaster I’d been riding told me it was time to go home, so we left before the last words were finished on East Travis. The next day, feeling a bit exhausted, I laid low and allowed my emotional and physical bodies to soak in the experience, taking time to reflect on the passion and creativity of Andi, Vocab, Anthony Dean and all the others involved. To recognize the beauty of this community we live in and the diversity of its people in heart, mind, melanin and soul.
This street art will be on display until January 1, 2021, and I hope you will have the chance to see it the next time you are in downtown San Antonio -- and that you, too, will feel the power of our connections to our deepest selves and each other.
I also hope that you’ll join me for our online Circle gathering this Sunday morning, as we explore how these challenging times are affecting us -- as individuals and as a spiritual community – and how we can foster our awareness of the deep connection between us.