I found myself driving around aimlessly in Albuquerque yesterday asking, “What should I do with my life.” I’ve been after that question a lot lately, so finally I also asked the universe to give me a clue — I figured that couldn’t hurt — and then, while it took a few twists and turns, I actually got an answer.
It started when I was in a parking lot when a woman on crutches approached from between the cars, and then I saw she was one-legged. With just the right amount of anguished tearfulness, she said, “I’m not a drunk and I’m not on drugs, the homeless shelter is full, and I’m just trying to get enough for a room,” and her appeal moved me to give her some money. Whatever her story, it is just possible to end up on the streets these days.
That opened my heart up to the suffering around me. And it caused a fundamental shift in my question. Now it was “What can I do to make the world a better place?” Anyway, it was about noon, I was getting hungry and I went into the Whole Foods grocery store near the intersection of Wyoming Boulevard at Academy Road. I took a sandwich into the dining area when something fabulous on the walls caught my eye. It was a show of children’s art, and it was really good. It was beautiful. That innocent joy and energy of children’s art is just a pleasure to look at.
Picasso was onto something when he told people to appreciate children’s art. The works, about 30 pieces, were colorful and creative and free, and then I noticed some of them had unusual captions, that I would later learn from their teacher was completely of their own writing: “Nature’s Beauty,” “Love the World, Take Care of the Earth,” “Respect All Kinds of Nature, Color is Everything, “ “Make Peace,” “Peace is your only Hope”, “Balance the World.” One that gave you a spinning feeling was titled “Happy World!”
Another, where you could see the teacher had helped a bit with the printing of a long message the child had composed, said “We appreciate how nature is beauty,” and had a tree with arm-like branches and pools of water gathering from streams that ran down from mountain peaks.
All the artwork had depth, layers of drawing, with markers and crayon and collage. And it seemed like one of the children had drawn themselves at the base of the world with sunrays coming out, or maybe the figure was an angel, or maybe it was both.
I had gotten so far away from that place of appreciation, that I hadn’t remembered anymore what art is for, and that appreciating beauty actually makes a difference. The pictures reached me, and they reminded me that beauty and harmony are indeed how the universe holds together — and that is both a scientific and a spiritual reality. And I had forgotten that making art, for children, is such a spontaneous thing to do. And that disharmony and ugliness appear when things aren’t working. I tend to get so caught up in focusing on what’s wrong in the world that I’d forgotten so many things that these children‘s artwork suddenly reminded me of.
I looked at the small sign below the work. This was artwork by the students of the Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences (located next door to the Albuquerque Jewish Community Center) about tikkun olam, which is Hebrew for repairing or healing of the world. “The children, grades K-5, were asked to artistically represent how they could make the world a better place. These are their visual answers.”
I called the school and I got to talk to the teacher, Celeste Boals, Apparently the show had just been put up an hour before I sat down. Boals said she teaches all the grades at the school and that everyone’s piece got to be in the show. She said that they had been working for the last month on this theme, tikkun olam, which is a core concept in Judaism — that the world is broken and we need to repair it, or as she says she likes to say, heal it.
“Since in Judaism we can’t depict images of God,” she said, “the children talked about how they can imply the presence of God, so some of the pictures have rays of light, and eyes in the sky, and angels. This idea of tikkun olam is where we are always looking at what’s wrong in the world and what needs to be fixed, but really we have to look in ourselves, in our hearts, what can each of us do in ourselves, in our lives, to effect positive change in the world.”
I told her that the exhibit was working. It was a first step for me, an answer, the first one I’d gotten to my prayer asking the universe show me what to do with my life. There it was — it gave me a little glimpse of what it means to make the world a better place.
By popular demand, following this article the show stayed up at the Whole Foods through November, 2014. Update: Despite its many years of success, due to falling admissions and lack of funding, the school closed its doors at the end of the school year in the spring of 2015.