Graffiti Prophets

Scrounging for Hope

When shadows fall heavy upon the land, I look for signs of hope. Lately, the shadows have weighed so heavy that I’ve been tempted to stop looking. Still, on unhurried days I walk our dog down along the river. It feeds straight to the Bay. I try to forget that it could flood our neighborhood, maybe for good someday if the sea level rises enough. The floodwall wears predictable layers of spray paint script. Much of it inscrutable, though one can decode the predictable bevy of profanities, as specific as they are explicit. But a few weeks back, I saw something new: “you are loved,” “keep going,” and “I am scared I don’t know what to do but I know I will survive and be glad that I did.”

Embracing the Writing on the Wall

Now I don’t condone vandalism. But graffiti can be a legitimate form of visual expression and protest, hence one of the “five pillars of hip-hop” as articulated by DJ Afrika Bambaataa back in the 1970s. And if on some walls there is bound to be graffiti anyway, even my lawful good heart can concede that there might as well be virtuous words amid the vicious noise.

It can be so easy to forget, at least for some of us, in times like these. I am loved. I don’t need to know what to do. But if I keep going, working, striving for a brighter tomorrow not just for me but for the next generations, I will be grateful for it. In terms of fundamental core values, I’m not sure I need much more than that to make it through the day. But in crisis, after erecting elaborate personal philosophies, only to watch them crumble under the weight of the latest news, I often realize how much I have let my grip on these basics slide.

Like many prophecies, these words contain a promise and an admonition. I don’t have many answers. But I know that you, whoever you are, are loved. You are somebody. You are beautiful in the distinctive ways that make you you. You should keep going. And it’s okay not to know how or why. That’s the promise.

But the admonition is that this promise applies to everyone—and not everyone is feeling the love. Not in ways that put food on the table, or weary bones in warm beds, or safeguard the innocent, even children, from being gunned down in the midst of their beautiful living. Some people have foregone the need to love and to be loved in order to oppress others, even to the point of mistaking dominance for love and arrogance for wisdom.

A reckoning is coming, if we let it, if we do what must be done. If you don’t know what to do, that’s okay. Sit. Listen. Remember. “You are loved.” Let’s keep going, one step at a time, with the expectation that the words you need to live into existence might most be needed in someone else’s version of where words don’t belong.