This story is a few months old but I hadn’t told it to anyone until last week, when I realized it’s funny enough to be worth sharing and that it requires photos to tell properly, so here goes.
Back in February, in the midst of one of the coldest, snowiest winters I can remember, I was in serious need of some inspiration when I went to my neighborhood mailbox and found this sticker:
I took a photo because I had gone to send music about activism and corporate campaigns to a fellow organizer, and I knew she’d be amused. I also took it as a sign that I was living in a great neighborhood, on the west side of Providence, Rhode Island.
Crossing from the west side into downtown Providence means crossing an interstate on one of the overpasses that are dotted along its length every few blocks. Many of these bridges have water stains, graffiti and other markings, so I probably would have missed it if I hadn’t been on foot, but in the spring I spotted this incredible piece of public art:
If you can’t tell from the photo, the water stains at the bottom are natural formations, but the painting above reproduces the same pattern with dramatic effect. It stopped me in my tracks with pure joy, and also provoked a great exchange with a cyclist who noticed me photographing it while he was stopped at the red light.
This anonymous blessing reminded me of the mailbox sticker and made me want to contribute to the fun. By this time, the sticker had been removed and/or painted over, so I resolved to replace the message. I can’t paint but I do have a decent printer, so I printed the photo and put it inside of a magnetic plastic sleeve, which I stuck on the same side of the box where the sticker used to be:
It was small but legible when standing next to the box. My hope was that someone would be inspired as I had been: perhaps the person who originally posted the sticker would see that it had been appreciated, or someone new would see the message who wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. I chose a magnet intentionally to be impermanent; I didn’t want to create clean-up work for anyone but I was curious to see how long it would stay in place.
Not only did it stay for nearly two months, the first time it rained someone adjusted it to protect it better from the rain. I had slapped it on a bit crooked, but someone clearly straightened and centered it, making the slot on the side less exposed to the elements:
…and that’s my story: anonymous public expression inspiring more of the same. On one level, it’s a laughably small thing to do, but at the same time, it felt like a reminder from the universe (or my neighbors) that everything we do matters. Every day we have the choice to inspire each other and lift up the beauty around us. I truly hope I can find more opportunities for public art, humor and silliness in 2016 – and I’m more convinced than ever that Providence is a great city to do it in. Continuing across to the other side of that overpass, you will find this gem:
I rest my case.