I’m making a 8′ x 12′ mural at the Grant Grover School, a branch of the College of Marin, for young people with special needs, through the Youth in Arts program of Marin County. When I say I don’t know what odds are, what I mean is that many odds pale when I spend time with someone who cannot walk or talk, but who can look me in the eye and cause me to question all I take for granted. As Lili Lopez, my 18 year-old Unity Through Creativity assistant, says “They know something we don’t know.” The students at Grant Grover have a great range of skill and consciousness, which makes any skill and consciousness seem like a precious thing. Every time I ask a student to use a chalk line, or take a video, or use a caulk gun, I never know what will happen. Most of my requests have been met with “yes” and follow through.
After surveying 30 students about their sparks, I made a sketch incorporating many of their passions. I chose the golden retriever as a symbol of unconditional love. One of the students has a dream of making a shelter for abused and neglected golden retrievers. He sees the odds that the dogs are up against and wants to do something about it. I xeroxed the drawing and asked the students to color it in, getting ideas for the color scheme.
I’m comfortable around these young people because I can relate to the level of affection they thrive on. It reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of herself as a cross between a golden retriever and a barnacle. I told that to Kyle, the prince of warmth at the school – the golden retriever guy. We had a belly laugh about how that’s how much we need love, too.