"I walked down this path lonely, sad and hopeless," the self-described "chalk warrior" and independent filmmaker known as T explains in words on pavement off the East River in Harlem. T knows we so often look down when we walk. So, she literally meets people where they are by writing messages on the sidewalk. She's been doing it for years; she celebrated her 24th birthday and marked the passing of her grandmother all with chalk messages.
I encountered T, as it happens, when I asked on social media for some thoughts on this time of transition between one year and 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. Unsurprisingly, many of the commenters wanted either enthusiastic applause or a definitive condemnation of Donald Trump. Why are we 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 about it and let it control our lives, emotions and behavior toward each other. 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, 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."
Another suggested, via Twitter: "How about a sustained argument for optimism (realistic optimism) as a human virtue, and pessimism as pride?"
And yet another 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 wasn't always 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 a video on Youtube about the mysterious, even hidden, grace that 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 last year. 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 ... 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 said, "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."
T will soon be a mother herself, but long before she became pregnant, she was trying to draw people out of their spiritual orphanhood with her chalked messages of hope. May she and mothers of all kinds be embraced, celebrated and listened to and supported in the new year. Only then will we move beyond our rancorous politics and begin to achieve something better.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.