When I was in NOLA, right after the loss of my daughter, I found myself wandering around the co-op art gallery. I couldn’t stand most of the tourist stuff, the hurricanes, the beads, or the general happiness of tourists in town. I ducked into the gallery that was owned by multiple artists. For whatever reason, on this day, they had a bin with original prints for a reasonable price, prices that changed remarkably the next day when I returned. The gallery was also occasionally run by each artist, and the artist of this picture was working the counter.
This image is actually not the focal point of the picture. The duck, that you cannot see in the image, is the star of the show. The photograph is a house, days post Katrina, that has been abandoned temporarily, where the door is open, displaying a beautiful wood staircase. The house is covered in graffiti. In the mists of the chaos this image portrays, there is a happy little duck walking out the front door, making the best of a crummy situation.
What struck me as odd, was the angel that someone had taken the time to graffiti on the house. It is actually over the other graffiti. When I fist saw the image I was hit with such emotion that I broke into tears at the sight of it. It was a large picture of destruction and devastation but someone decided to leave a message of hope in the midst of tragedy.
The artist had decided to grab her camera after the horrific hurricane. She ran after the signs of hope, the helping hands, the angels found in unimaginable places, the absurd, and the sometime ridiculous circumstances of a situation. She could have taken pictures of sadness and despair. She decided to look for something else, something no one was documenting. Hope, kindness, and mercy.
It seems people communicated to each other in the graffiti. There is one photograph of hers where the home owner writes on her front steps, “Thank you for feeding my cats.” There is a response underneath that says, “you are welcome.” Someone took the time to feed their neighbors cats, most likely having to go out of their way to do so during such uncertain times. The neighbor could have left the cats, thinking it’s too expensive, not knowing when the owners are, having their own mouths to feed, and many other understandable reasons to not feed someone else’s animals. Instead, the act of kindness was documented and shared as art for all the world to see.
When I was 21, and not always making the best decisions, I decided to move from Ohio to California, on my own, on limited funds and before cell phones. I would drive for about 8 hours and then I would find a place to stop. Somewhere in Arizona or Nevada I found myself driving through insanely long stretches of flat dirt. The sun reflected off the horizon in mirage fashion to the point I didn’t feel like I was moving even at 80 MPH. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. There was not a rest stop or any other building anywhere but I knew I had to pull over or I would get in an accident. The next off ramp I saw I decided to pull over. It was an off ramp not really to anywhere, just a dirt area where you could get off and get back on. I pulled off to the side and fell asleep. I woke a couple of hours later to start my car and get back on the road. To my amazement, next to me was another car containing an elderly couple watching me. As I started my car and got back on the highway they also started their car and left also. As soon as I was on the highway, I looked around and the car and couple but they were nowhere to be found. They had pulled over and sat next to me while I slept and then disappeared when I awoke. I always told myself they were angels. Were they actual angels or human angels who saw a young girl on the road and decided to stay and watch over her while she slept? I believe we are all called to be each others angels in the darkness and in the midst of chaos.
I know that during the darkest valley of my entire life, I have had angels and acts of kindness helping me to crawl along this path of grief and sadness. It does not change the devastation, it cannot bring a loved one back, but somehow it can make the pain slightly more tolerable.
200 balloons released at the memorial formed an angel.