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Message on a Rock

June 15th, 2017 (02:47 pm)

I posted yesterday about what was happening in my usually quiet, friendly Alexandria neighborhood of Del Ray in the wake of the shooting of five people including a U.S. Congressman on a baseball field near the Monroe Street YMCA.

After leaving the area of the shooting after yesterday morning's press conference, I walked up Mount Vernon Avenue, where I stopped at our latest neighborhood art installation, "Soar." Passersby are encouraged to choose a rock from a wheelbarrow and write on it with the Sharpies provided, answering the question, "What is holding you back?" After cradling the rock in your hand for a moment, feeling its weight, you are supposed to leave it one of several large trays on the ground, symbolically releasing your burden. I placed a rock early in the month, when the project first appeared and the colorfully written rocks rested in just one layer. (Photo to right was taken early in the project, when sand could still be seen between the painted rocks.)

People have been adding rocks ever since, and by the time I stopped by yesterday, the rocks were filling the trays and piling up. They show such messages as, "Fear, "Intolerance," "Self-Doubt," and "Distrust," though several people wrote "Trump," one student said "Homework" (I wouldn't put it past my son), and one person said, "Pirates."

After you write on and release a rock, you take a fuchsia or tangerine paper crane from a basket and place it in a chicken-wire wall over the rock garden, as a metaphor for soaring free of what's keeping you from being your best person. I stopped and watched a man and two small children gaze at the project. They thought it was all about the cranes, so I explained about the rocks, and the kids wanted to write on one. Their father said they could later, on their way home from lunch. They went off to eat, and I stared at the rocks for a few minutes, trying to think of what to write on one, to sum up some takeaway from yesterday's incident. I couldn't. It was too big for one rock.

A few weeks ago, Del Ray was in the news for another hateful incident. Someone had plastered neo-Nazi signs with vitriolic messages on posts and in yards along a block near the library, not far from today's shooting. The community responded instantly, cleaned up the signs, and replaced them with messages of love and tolerance.

Yesterday's events will be much harder to paste over.

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