Write on: Passing time

I must have seen the mural dozens of times before.

But I don’t think it really hit me until this summer.

Passing by downtown’s quiet Ferdinand Street on my bike, the bold, black lettering seemed to catch my eye anew.

The words read, “You lose a lot of time, hating people.”

225 editor Jennifer Tormo. Photo by Collin Richie.

The quote on the lavender and pale yellow crocheted mural appears next to a woman’s face. She’s larger than life, and seems to be looking toward the sky.

It was brutally hot that evening, and I was eagerly making my way toward the breezy riverfront, where the wind would blow my hair out of my eyes.

But as I biked down the levee, I wasn’t thinking much about the heat, the setting sun or the bugs zipping through the air alongside me.

Because I couldn’t seem to get the mural’s words out of my mind.

I remembered learning about how the piece was installed last year. It was created by Philadelphia artist Olek. He stitched together crocheted squares created by his local community to create one giant, meaningful image.

That message was brought to Baton Rouge to line the side of The Arts Council’s upcoming Cary Saurage Community Arts Center headquarters.

The mural’s face and quote, though, belong to musician and civil rights activist Marian Anderson.

And as I biked that day, I was thinking about how the meaning of Anderson’s words—which seem so simple, so universal—must have changed throughout the years.

They must have meant something different when Anderson, who was the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera back in 1955, first spoke them decades ago.

And her words echoed a little differently when they went up on that wall in Baton Rouge in April 2019 than they do today, to a person passing by them in the middle of a pandemic.

But that night they were a reminder to me to slow down, breathe and try to find love, beauty and goodness wherever I can.

At times, that’s felt harder than ever this year. “Doomscrolling” through the news feels downright depressing—but in an election year, keeping up with that news also feels more essential than ever.

And don’t even get me started on the comments on those news stories. I think a lot of journalists have a running joke to “never read the comments.” But in reality, we always do.

In a time when absolutely everything is politicized, I think we have all spent a lot of time feeling angry this year. I know I’ve personally been frustrated about people who refuse to do something as simple as wear a mask, about others who don’t agree with views, and about how no-end-in-sight this pandemic feels.

I recently ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since March, and we talked about how we have to “figure out a way to safely hang out sometime soon.” I was struck by how sad and hopeless her tone felt, though.

“You see that no one else around us cares about all of this, don’t you?” she asked me, referring to the state of the world. “Do you feel it, too?”

I nodded, because I did feel it—and still feel it. In truth, it seems like most of my friends feel it, as well.

Or at least I thought they did. Until I talked to another friend who said she thought this year had actually made us all kinder. More empathetic to what others are going through. And more creative than ever, as we literally restructure our entire lives.

This year is going to change us all—but it’s up to us how it changes us.

So that night on my bike, I rode past the mural again, just to see it one more time.

I took a deep breath, and tilted my head toward the sky just as Anderson was doing in the mural.

I thought of all the artists—and so many other types of people—who despite it all are still trying to make our city, our world better.

And in that better world, there is no room for time spent hating people.

This article was originally published in the September 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.