I never met a graffiti artist until yesterday. I was biking on a trail which took me beneath a bridge. It's a tough piece of trail to negotiate to begin with and then to pop over the little hill right before the underpass and find someone standing right there with a spray can in his hand -- definitely gets adrenaline pumping!
Having never met a graffiti artist before, I wasn't exactly sure what to say or do. As I gingerly rolled over the rocks I said hello to the equally-startled man. As stole glances from the trail to the bridge, I felt both awkward and in awe. The art that was unfolding before my very eyes was breathtaking. I don't pretend to understand what message the words and images meant -- nor did it seem appropriate to ask at that moment! -- but it was like riding into a explosion of color and warmth and life!
Now I'm not condoning the defacement of property. Graffiti is a problem in many areas. Yet we human beings have this longing, this urge to express ourselves, to put our mark on this world. When telling one of my sisters about my encounter with the graffiti artist, she reminded me of the catacombs and how since the first century to this day have made their marks on the cave walls. Check out her photo from her visit to the catacombs of Rome a few years back. You can see ancient painting of a bird -- along with more recent markings from visitors.
As I continue to think about my encounter with the graffiti artist, I am left with the surprising feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for this particular person who created a thing of beauty in an otherwise scary, dark corner of the world. It may only have been a small chunk of concrete in the midst of a vast universe, but it's one that will remind me of how to always look for beauty even in the midst of negotiating the hazards of life. And I hope that I whatever random graffiti I put out to the world (planting flowers in the stump of a dead tree, adding time to the expired parking meter of the car in front of mine, a blog post about graffiti!) can be a little bit of beauty in someone else's life.
As I rode away from the bridge and the artist beneath it, I blurted out, "Did you do all that? It's totally awesome!" While not the coolest words to utter to a graffiti artist, I hope the man understood my message to him -- that his art meant a lot to me and that I was grateful.