On Thugs, Grace, and the Beauty Path

(An inspired moment when I had our students (seen below) using my car for a desk to finish drawing mural designs for surrounding garage area neighborhood hangout.)

I recently listened to this powerful series on thugs by The American Life (https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/442/thugs). The last piece in the series, “Thugs,” only convinces me to invest more in cleaning up neighborhoods for and with kids. Making areas that inspire humanity are so important within disadvantaged neighborhoods. Once kids fall into a self-destructive path, it is very difficult for them to make positive choices for themselves or others.

With Art Sphere I have taught art to various needy communities including the homeless, drug abusers, alcoholics, the mentally ill, gang members, and criminals. Low self-esteem and misperceptions of limited life options map out miserable futures for many. Giving respect by honoring others’ experiences is valuable, but maybe more important is exposing people to new perspectives and more opportunities.

Though we were raised to be non-religious, the interview also brings up a religious quote my mother often said to my brother and me growing up: “But by the grace of God.”

From “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10) It’s a complicated quote with many interpretations, as seen here:  https://suscopts.org/messages/lectures/soterlecture4.pdf

I’ve always taken it to mean that a person’s misfortune could just as easily be mine. And just as likely, my misfortunes could easily be theirs. Which has always led me to think: what saves us?

Nurturing one’s self with positive symbols or self-talk is lifesaving, especially when surrounded by negativity. Grace is a fragile gift that easily dissolves when one stops being thankful for all the goodness in their life.

In those trying times when there is only the smallest amounts of humanity, time spent noticing beauty or caring can be a crucial factor that keeps us making the choice to act with kindness, love, and understanding.  A cleaner sidewalk, a safe clean park, a mural with a peace sign, and art classes where students are encouraged to notice each others’ brilliance are small ways that Art Sphere gets kids involved in walking down the right path in less fortunate areas.

As Navaho, Hopi, and other Indigenous Peoples in the Americas traditions explain: “A Path of Beauty is the pursuit of truth, that which is common ground for all life.  We each walk through our days with an innate desire for joy, peace of mind and heart. This journey is strengthened by gratitude for all that we already have…that which surrounds us and supports us and then to share it.”

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