I am walking in the late afternoon, taking in the sights and sounds of a world far from my woodland home. I’ve been here before, and each time, I notice new things. This time my eyes are drawn to the buildings that sprawl along every block. I imagine men in suits discussing – designing. It appears that somewhere in the process, the assignment must have been given to “make them as ugly as possible.”
Scattered across the desert landscape, they blend in precisely because they are the color of the sand. Dusty, non-descript beige. Bland and boxy. Uniform rows of low-slung rectangles with precisely placed squares through which occupants can glimpse the piercing blue of the southern California sky.
Are these prisons, you ask? After all, it would make sense for criminals to live surrounded by the barest of essentials – deprived of creativity and beauty.
The answer is no. Although no doubt some would say they feel trapped inside these concrete walls, this is not a prison. It is low-income housing.
I walk between the rows of apartments feeling sadness slowly growing into anger. Why? “Economy” would no doubt be the answer. While I can understand the need to create affordable housing, my heart demands to know why it must be so basic? So barren? So bereft of beauty?
Then I see it. Beauty.
And once my eyes are opened, I see that it is everywhere ….
A delicate rose blooms in the small square of dirt allotted to a ground floor unit. A yellow cat stretches long and leisurely on a windowsill. Dozens of hummingbirds swarm a pair of feeders, flashing streaks of green against the beige. A colorful flag flaps on a tiny pole beside the sidewalk decorated with chalk drawings. Curtains of every color frame the hollow window eyes. Wreaths adorn several doors. Children’s toys clutter the space under a stairwell. Two comfortable chairs cuddle together on a concrete slab, inviting a shared moment. A solar-powered butterfly twinkles in the growing dusk. Christmas lights wrap around railings – this railing decked in white, that one in a rainbow of color.
Through the window squares, into the warm air, wafts the smell of cooking food, a baby’s cry, the giggles of pre-teen girls, the clank of dishes, a tired squabble, someone practicing scales on a clarinet …
While these families have found themselves sequestered inside uniform beige boxes, each one has taken their allotted square footage and made it a home. I smile at the personality and resilience displayed at every turn.
I smile because I realize that you can place hundreds of humans into identical beige boxes, but you can never make us all the same. We need beauty. Our souls crave it. So no matter where we live or how many material possessions we claim, we will find a way to gather beauty and infuse meaning into our daily lives. Because we must.
Because we know the truth …. beauty heals.