Again, and again, I have been roused to awareness in witness of the souls who walk this earth untended to. I lived in New York City for most of my 20’s and early 30’s. When not engrossed in the roller coaster of my own coming-of-age story, I remembered about others and volunteered with Coalition for the Homeless. When I come to a new place, part of what I do is seek out the people in need.
I remember once being in a van that went around the Bowery in Lower Manhattan delivering meals. The driver was a memorable guy who fueled his sobriety with his addiction to helping others. It was dusk, the bridges were beginning to light up around the city as we drove from location to location, delivering meals out of milk crates. There was one moment in particular on an outing like any other that I have replayed in my mind over and over like a gritty movie reel. We were somewhere around Chinatown and the FDR drive which runs along the East Side of Manhattan. It was nearly dark and as I began to climb out of the van, I got a glimpse in the distance of the people approaching us and it took my breath away. They just kept coming and coming and coming pouring out of dilapidated buildings and alleyways like ants out of an anthill. As they approached, I took in their physical condition. Their clothes and skin were deeply layered and worn, thick with dirt and suffering and decades of mental illness and addictions untreated.
Late last year, I described to my friend how I was hoping to bring awareness to the devastating issue of homelessness in our country through my art. My first thought had been to create portraits of homeless individuals enhanced in colors and imagery that would invoke all that lies beneath the outer appearance of those without a safe place to lay their head at night. It was then that my friend—who has a much deeper connection to what it means to be homeless than I do—suggested that I create a piece of art that could simply be enjoyed by homeless people in a gathering space. She turned her head up a little and suggested with a slight smile that inspiration might be of some use, that a piece of art might be an unexpected source of hope in an otherwise drab environment like a soup kitchen. I admired her insight—the respect she demonstrated with her idea for all people needing access to beauty and communion with their hearts. Her idea spoke to me instantly and freed me, too, to concentrate on a work of art that was simply beautiful and bright and inspiring.
I began to envision an array of colors that would represent a pouring out of all that remains good in the world despite the evidence otherwise. As I began creating a paper palette, I grew very still inside, inviting a universal force to be with me in my work and to guide the outcome. Although I hadn’t presented the idea to anyone there, I had a vision of sharing the completed work over the holiday season at a local soup kitchen. I was fueled by the bad news in the media wanting to be a part of a counter-balance. There was the continued school violence and then the Syrian Refugee Crisis and news of record homelessness numbers in New York City—including an ever-growing number of children without a place to be safe at home in the night. I underestimated the amount of time it would take to complete the work but settled into the process trusting in what I recognize as a divine timing in all things.
As weeks and then months passed, my work also became deeply informed by my participation in a yoga teacher training and specifically my mind opening to the idea of a fascial network within each of our bodies supporting and protecting all that we are made up of. I found this image to be an excellent metaphor for the networks of our human capacities for holding each other—and not holding each other—and the ways that the systems may be disrupted through injury and trauma.
It is a gift each time I am allowed to participate in a piece of art coming to life and I never know where the work will take me. This experience was no exception. Over the course of five months, what began as a pouring out of the love and the good that I still trust exists in this multifaceted world, became an expression of the deeply held connections between us all as we make our way through the interwoven nature of life’s unfolding. With this in mind, I decided to call the art, “Fascia.”
I worked closely with a minister at 1stUniversalist of Yarmouth, ME, to find an appropriate place to share my work. The soup kitchen was wary and concerned about liability. I assured them that I was not concerned about the well-being of the work but they declined anyway. Eventually, I was connected with the Office of General Assistance in Portland, ME. Hundreds of individuals—including a significant refugee population—pass through this department each day in search of assistance in finding housing and other basic human needs. The staff there was incredibly enthusiastic about brightening their waiting room—which they likened to a DMV with long waits and lots of people—with a colorful and large work of art.
We mounted the work along with a piece of writing, “You Are Not Your Shoes,” displayed beside it. I didn’t know how “Fascia” would actually be received. I wondered whether people really do just want and need us to help them get into a place where they can have their basic needs met. Or maybe they would love to stand before a work of art and be reminded that they matter—that they have significance in this colorful world that we all share. My wish is that they would never, ever have to choose between the two.
“You are Not Your Shoes”
Meghan Anderson Nathanson
You are not your shoes. You are not whether they were lent to you or if they are new, or borrowed or stolen. You are not how well they fit or whether or not they are in style. Look down at those shoes, shiny or dull. You are not those shoes. You are not your hair. You are not whether it is clean or soiled, long or shaven. You are not whether it is itchy or silky or falling out. You are not its texture or color or whether you have had a real haircut in a long while. You are not your hair. You are not your nails, either. Painted or plain, in need of trimming. Lined with dirt, rounded and buffed, sharp. You are not your nails. You are not your clothing. You are not whether or not you have a place to wash what you wear. You are not the way your clothing fits or the shape of it or whether it has been worn by someone else before you. You are not the amount of money that was spent on your clothing, no matter how much. You are not your clothing any more than a pearl is the shell in which it dwells. You are not even, really, your body all together with its feet and hair and nails and clothing. Round, thin, worn out, confused, strong, addicted, sober. None of this is you. You. Oh, You. You are so much more than all of these layers. When these things—these seemingly important things—fall away from you—from us all—that, that is You. You are the still and the quiet that remains deep within the well of you. You are the prayer said in the night, whispered again at dawn’s light. You are the essence that came here first as a baby, fresh and new. That. That is still You. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been or whether or not you can remember. It is there. You are unlike any other and that is good. You matter. You matter to Us and You matter to the world. There is still good in this complicated place. There is good and it is alive and flowing as we all make our way through the interwoven nature of life’s unfolding. You are colorful and you are important to the web that connects us all. We need You. And it is ok if you need Us too.