‘I walked down this path lonely, sad, and hopeless,” self-described “chalk warrior” T explains, in words on pavement off the East River in Harlem. When you hear her message, though, she’s more of a sister walking alongside strangers who she sees as brothers and sisters. She knows we so often look down when we walk. So she literally meets people where they are and communicates where she knows they look. She’s been doing it for years and celebrated her 24th birthday doing it. Chalk writing, she marked the passing of her grandmother. Changed by faith — and, now, pregnancy — she doesn’t want to “waste a day” in her life or be chained by so many of the concerns of the world.
I encountered T, as it happens, as I asked on social media for some thoughts on this time of transition between one year to the next. It’s traditionally a time of assessment and resolution. It’s an opportunity to see where we have been, are, and could be going — or where we’re going on current trajectories. Not surprising, many of the commenters wanted either enthusiastic applause or a definitive condemnation of Donald Trump. One of the most important things about the Trump years may be something we missed during the Obama years. It may have to do with realizing that our lives are not national. So why be so focused on the executive, the national, the celebrity? Our national politics is important but it’s not everything. We make it more powerful than it should be when we obsess over it and let it control our lives and our emotions and our behavior toward one another. It’s a big country out there, and each and every one of us has a role to play.
One Facebook commenter, himself an experienced journalist and commentator, living in Utah, said: “We . . . need to dial back on the 24/7 notions of being angry, hurt, or . . . mad all the time. . . . While one, or even a few, of those disappointments or #fails will merit protest and/or action, not everything will. We seem to be losing a sense of equanimity and comity — and we need to get it back, and pronto.”
Another suggested, via Twitter: “How about a sustained argument for optimism (realistic optimism) as a human virtue, and pessimism as pride?” (Pro- and anti-Trumpism, be not proud?)
And yet another, sounding like a wise grandfather, said: “Out w/hysteria, in w/reflection. Out w/vilification, in w/identification. Out w/fear, in w/love. Out w/despair, in w/hope.”
One more tweeted: “Giving room in our lives for God to speak and move.”
T, the Chalk Warrior, talks about how a man who hadn’t always been supportive of her chalk ministry came up to her as she was on her last mission, gave her a hug, and told her how he had been praying about her and the love she had poured out onto the pavement over the years. She reflected in her last video about what grace we never know might be at work when we simply show a little love, even to people we don’t know.
T reminded me of a message from Pope Francis on the first of the year in 2016. He talked about Mary and the need our culture has for celebrating and embracing motherhood.
Mothers are the strongest antidote to our individualistic and egotistic tendencies, to our lack of openness and our indifference. A society without mothers would not only be a cold society, but a society that has lost its heart, lost the “feel of home.” A society without mothers would be a merciless society, one that has room only for calculation and speculation. Because mothers, even at the worst times, are capable of testifying to tenderness, unconditional self-sacrifice and the strength of hope. I have learned much from those mothers whose children are in prison, or lying in hospital beds, or in bondage to drugs, yet, come cold or heat, rain or drought, never stop fighting for what is best for them. Or those mothers who in refugee camps, or even the midst of war, unfailingly embrace and support their children’s sufferings. Mothers who literally give their lives so that none of their children will perish. Where there is a mother, there is unity, there is belonging, belonging as children.
He went on to say that mothers — including the Church as mother — help protect against the “corrosive disease of being ‘spiritual orphans.’” “It is the sense of being orphaned that the soul experiences when it feels motherless and lacking the tenderness of God, when the sense of belonging to a family, a people, a land, to our God, grows dim, he said. “This sense of being orphaned lodges in a narcissistic heart capable of looking only to itself and its own interests. It grows when what we forget [is] that life is a gift we have received — and owe to others — a gift we are called to share in this common home.”
Long before she was pregnant, T was trying to draw people out of their spiritual orphanhood and all its loneliness and all other kinds of plagues. May she and all mothers of all kinds be embraced and celebrated and listened to and supported in the new year. It’s a pathway to warmth, belonging, hope, and peace. It’s a protection against looking for politics to fill voids that it has no business in.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and an editor-at-large of National Review. Sign up for her weekly NRI newsletter here. This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.