When this is over, there will be a reckoning.
We’ll look back and we’ll see everyone who helped us through.
The doctors and nurses who wrapped themselves in garbage bags when the protective gear ran out. The clerks in the grocery stores, restocking shelves, day after panic-shopping day. The distilleries that churned out free hand sanitizer. The people who stepped off the sidewalk to give someone else 6 feet of space to safely walk by.
We’ll honor everyone who stayed home, washed their hands, kept their distance, and helped slow a killer virus to a crawl.
We’ll look back at the few who were no help at all.
The hoarders. The spring breakers. The billionaires who didn’t offer sick pay. The hackers who crept online to scrawl swastikas and racial slurs across remote classroom screens and drop their trousers in the middle of prayer groups on Zoom.
Or that guy who stockpiled 17,000 bottles of Purell in his garage. One guy, ruining the day of 17,000 people who just wanted clean hands.
This is not a story about that guy.
This is a story about someone who wanted to help.
Cedar Thomas is an artist, a college senior and one of millions of Minnesotans making the best of bad times.
Thomas, who graduates from the University of Minnesota in May, set up a garage studio at home and set to work finishing up the last few portfolio projects of the semester. The dim, chilly garage offered a perfect view of the busy sidewalks, where the entire Minneapolis neighborhood seemed to be walking around, taking a break from the views inside their homes.
Thomas decided to improve the view.
Last week, Thomas mixed up some homemade chalk from starch and watercolor and set to work livening up the driveway with colorful hearts and cheery messages.
“I wrote, ‘We will get through this together,’” said Thomas, whose preferred pronouns are they and them. “Then I wrote on the corner, ‘Sending love’ with a heart.”
The next day, a roommate contributed some sidewalk chalk to the project and Thomas kept going, incorporating the project into coursework, eager to bring a smile to anyone who stumbled upon it.
Chalk hearts bloomed down the driveway. Thomas repainted old signs with encouraging notes for passersby:
Stay Safe. Stay well. Check in. Support each other. Spread love.
Thomas chalked hearts and arrows around the block, inviting neighbors to stroll by.
“Sending love to you and yours.” Thomas sketched encouraging messages around the neighborhood as student photographer Sophie Warrick documented the work. “Take care.” “We will get through this.”
The sidewalks of Minnesota are covered with notes like this. People are tucking teddy bears into their windows for children to find in neighborhood scavenger hunts.
These are the small, sweet gestures people share to let others know that even when we can’t be together, we’re all in this together.
Neighbors would pause, read, smile and wave to Thomas, at work in the studio garage strung with bright silver streamers.
Thomas used up every piece of chalk they had. Then a neighbor from about 14 blocks away dropped some off as thanks.
If you think that nobody could possibly object to chalk hearts and socially distant cheer, you don’t know That Guy.
The only thing more foul than the weather last weekend was the vandal who ripped down the signs and tore the silver streamers off the garage while cold rain was washing the chalk off the sidewalk. That Guy taped a note on the garage, accusing Thomas of making light of a pandemic.
“How [expletive] stupid are you?” the long note began. “There’s serious things happening in the world. It’s not time for a party.”
Thomas retraced the hearts and restored the signs on Monday, and left a note, trying to explain. The vandal returned, destroyed some of Thomas’ property in the garage, and left another nasty note.
They know who did it. That Guy bragged about it on Facebook.
But this isn’t a story about That Guy. The guy’s probably just sad, scared and hurting. But aren’t we all right now?
This story’s about getting through hard times and the people who make it harder.
Since the vandalism, neighbors have rallied around the artist. Those signs and chalk hearts made a lot of people happy — including Cedar Thomas.
“Creating this community art was a pretty positive experience for me and it did bring a lot of people joy,” they said. “It’s a great use of energy at this time.”