Harmless platitudes nagging at my feet. Seems like just yesterday these were the words I spoke daily. How many of these phrases made it into our college essays, or peppered our speeches? When did it somehow stop being acceptable to say these things?
Now the sidewalks say it for us.
I’m talking about “Encurbagement.” Phrases, four words at most, spray-painted on the curb by Believe in People, New Haven’s anonymous artist-in-residence. From York Street across the Green and down to State Street, 23 truisms from “keep your dreams” to “conquer all fears” now mark our everyday paths through this gritty urban tundra. Draw lines between them on a map and they spell out the artist’s initials. BiP. Believe in People.
Wherever and whoever he is, maybe he saw that I looked tired. For some reason, the old tricks don’t seem to work anymore. I’ve been told that the world can’t be simple. When you make a statement, be ready defend it. When you have hope, follow it with cynicism. When did I learn these things? Standing outside Bruegger’s on Whitney, I’m carrying the weight of these lessons, my day, my semester. Maybe I should remember that the past is over.
A woman rolls past me on State Street in a motorized wheelchair – who is this message for exactly? I’m a Yale student, so of course I’m inclined to think this is for me. This is my city. But maybe this is for her. Maybe she’s the one who will see it, scooting past, and believe that she can climb all obstacles.
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Grove Street doesn’t exactly seem like the place to always choose love, but where would that place be exactly? Where’s the place that I would choose love, if not on the street outside the random restaurant, and faceless joggers running by and almost crashing into me. It could have been love right there, right? Who knows?
Maybe the concept is a bit tacky. From a Yale-trained eye for critique of the overly simple, the project lacks a certain intellectual complexity. It’s like the artsy emotional impact of PostSecret, with the eloquence of a fortune cookie. Maybe Hallmark is hiring. But I think Believe in People has found the forgotten curb as one last easel to leave the messages that we can’t forget.
We’re a city of walkers. With the weight of work pushing my shoulders down, how can I not see what’s been written for me? Breadcrumbs with no end, except maybe to end up facing myself and the words that I once embraced. I used to clothe myself in these clichés, but I believe I’ve grown. I believe that I can defy complacency without them. Like our elm trees losing their leaves, these words have fluttered down for me to notice, then trample.
So why not make the words more obvious? Are they messages if no one can read them? Maybe they’re just like me. We’re told that this is a complicated world, but these simple messages of veritas and lux. The truth of common humanity embedded in something like “reject social class” still exists, no matter how old or educated I am. Do we have to sacrifice the value of these words on the curb in order to spend hours debating who or what is at fault for socio-economic inequality?
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When I look at the words, really look at them, I’m confronted by the street and the noise ever passing, and the understanding that I might be the only person seeing what I’m seeing. Through the course of a day, how many others will see it? It’s on me to share the message. The power of these phrases can connect me with you, in the broadest and most common goals. Maybe I’ll say these things to my suitemates every morning,
and soon we’ll wake up laughing.
Now, curbsistently reminded, I wonder if we’ve stopped believing in people.
No, we believe in each other, this I believe. It’s just gotten tough to say it these days. Thanks for the help, BiP.