Change the World

The street I live on branches off a larger artery across from an old industrial building where they work with giant concrete blocks. The place is nearly abandoned. You never see anyone working there. Only occasionally are there lights on or a truck parked nearby. I imagine that the property is an unprofitable piece of some larger construction empire, caught in an economic limbo between life as a viable working factory and value as someone's tax write-off. So while it waits for the balance to shift and make it valuable enough to tear down and build another dream, it has been our landmark for directing visitors to our street. "Keep on the main road until you see the big ugly thing on the left, then turn right."

It's plenty ugly, too. Every morning as I go to work, I sit at the stop sign waiting to turn onto the main road, and our big ugly landmark just looms on the opposite side, staring back at me. Stark and cold, its face is the sort of sickly yellowed brown colour only found in industrial buildings. Its design is blocky, uninspired, and the few windows that break the monotony of the wall look as though they might as easily illuminate prison cells as work space. The mostly empty span of concrete surrounding the building is home to stacks of their product. Some of the ash-grey concrete blocks are assembled into a wide wall to one side of the factory proper.

I suppose it was just a matter of time before someone tagged the big empty space with graffiti. Blank stone has tempted artists, rebels, and punks for ages, and there's something about empty spaces that spurs our primitive urge to mark territory. Graffiti was a problem in ancient Greece and Rome, was scrawled on monuments by Renaissance artists, carved in stone by soldiers in many eras and left along the Oregon trail by pioneers. For as long as there have been things to write on, people have been writing on them. So, I'm actually surprised that the cement block wall stayed clean as long as it did.

When paint made its inevitable appearance on the boring surface a short while ago, the result took me completely by surprise. Instead of the usual names, obscenities or gang symbols, our vandal had left the message in towering letters, "Change the World."

It's still not pretty. The style of writing is plain, the color simple black, and the handwriting a little sloppy. It looks as if the paint supply ran low halfway through an attempt to enhance the message, leaving the weight of the letters uneven. I have seen more impressive work sprayed on train cars, signs or walls, but this one made me smile anyway.

He could have used the space for self-glorification. He could have used it to bitterly strike at the things and people he blamed for his discontent. But this anonymous artist chose to take his big blank space and fill it with hope. He used his opportunity to reach out and inspire.

Officially, I can't endorse the behavior. Private property is private property, and the owner has the right to keep it as he chooses even if I don't like the aesthetic. But on another level, I have to admire it. There's a risk involved in tagging a building, and the vandal spent that coin (so to speak) on blazoning a positive message. Now, until the owner takes the trouble to scrub it away, I'll have a daily reminder that I can make my time on the planet matter. We all have a voice in the world, however it may be expressed, and this person used his to


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