I have committed my latest—but only second—act of blatant graffiti, and I’m fessing up. If there are any law enforcement people reading this right now, try to hold off the urge to come over and arrest me until you read why I did it.
About ten years ago, one of the pieces of the sidewalk down from my office was replaced. When they poured the wet cement I wrote “Ed” in the bottom right hand corner of the square. If you ever get a chance, or want to take a look at it, it’s right past the bus stop bench just up from the doughnut store.
I had travelled that sidewalk for eighteen years and, at the time, I thought making my name permanent was a way to say something I thought was important: I was here. Long after I’m gone, that little engraving may still be there. And I’m hoping somebody remembers and cares about me when they see it.
A couple of days ago, I walked past it again, stopped and stared at the sidewalk. This time, I felt a little off. In looking at my name, I realized that the only person who finds this significant is myself. The statement doesn’t really have any meaning for anybody else. It’s just a name. My name, sure. But nobody else would really know that unless they knew me, and then they wouldn’t need to see my name in concrete.
On my way back from sidewalk self-examination, I sat on the bench at the bus stop, looking at the traffic, thinking about what a narcissistic jerk I am. A minute later, an older woman walked slowly by and sat next to me, waiting for the bus.
She had a grey coat with a fur collar, buttoned to the top. An oversized handbag sat in her lap, her arms crossed over it, keeping it close. I noticed no rings, no jewelry on her hands to indicate if she was married. I wondered if she had family. She looked sad, a bit drawn, easing carefully into the bench. She let out a sigh when her back came to rest. She never made eye contact with me. She stared down at the sidewalk in front of her until the bus came. I could tell she was tired. I could feel that she was down.
And then I thought: if she carved her name into the sidewalk somewhere, would anybody know who she was? I was curious about the kind of life she’s lived, the places she’s visited, and the circumstances that led her to the bench, waiting. Old and a little bent over, gray hair, indistinguishable from any other old woman I’ve ever seen, she was a life unknown to me. She crossed my path, waiting for a bus, staring into the sidewalk, alone. I wondered what name she would choose, and what legacy she thought she’d leave by carving it into the cement.
Five minutes went by, until she saw the bus coming and she raised herself deliberately, walked six steps, held on to the handrail of the stairs, and sat down in the front seat. She was gone.
I felt so affected by her. Something inside wanted me to find her, and let her know that I had noticed her, without encroaching on her feelings, or intruding on her life. I wanted her to know that she mattered, that somebody, at some point in her life, thought of her as special and important and meaningful. I wanted her to remember that somebody cared, and that the world was better for her being here.
The following day, early in the morning, I took a big screwdriver and a little paint to the sidewalk in front of the bus stop. I spent about fifteen minutes there, went back to my office, and waited.
I saw my friend approaching the bench later in the morning. She sat, again, wearing the same coat, holding her handbag the same way, looking at the sidewalk. This time, however, I saw her head focus not on the sidewalk but, for a moment, on the horizon, then upward. She never changed that focus, and her eyes were looking at the sky.
In a minute, the bus came, and she was gone. I hoped that, what she saw on the sidewalk in front of her made a difference. I hope that what she read made her remember herself at some time as beautiful, young and full of life: how, at some points in her life, someone close to her hopefully shared this sentiment with her, and made a difference in who she was, and who she came to be.
On the sidewalk were the words: “You are Loved.”
I hope she remembers.
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