These have been sprouting up around the neighborhood lately. I’ve counted at least half a dozen on my walks, scattered about in some unlikely places: at the end of sidewalks and the tops of porch steps, on the ledge of a sandbox and in the hollow of a Japanese maple. The one you see in the picture is currently resting at the base of my neighbor’s mailbox.
The rocks look to be colored with some sort of paint — not sprayed on, but brushed. Bright colors, too. No earth tones with these. They’re lime and pink, magenta and electric blue. Definitely not meant to stay hidden. These rocks scream out to be found. To be seen, and immediately.
The ribbons and quotes are as different as the coloring. Some I recognize but many I do not, poets and writers and philosophers from ages past, their words serving as a kind of immortality. I like this. In a time when the Gone is frowned upon in favor of the Just Ahead, it’s nice to be reminded that the world may always be changing but people never do. What was true in the Bronze Age or the Renaissance or in Victorian England remains true now, and will be true still upon some dim tomorrow. The times may evolve, but not the human heart. As a race, we are as good and as evil as we have always been and will always be.
I didn’t get that from one of the cards tied to the rocks. That’s just me talking.
I was lucky enough to catch someone finding their own message, this the day before yesterday while walking the dog. An elderly woman in her front yard, pail and trowel in hand, aiming herself for the rose garden in the middle of her front yard. She stopped with a suddenness that made me think she’d stumbled upon a copperhead searching for some sun. She picked up a near circular stone, bright yellow with a red bow. I saw her lips move as she read the note. Saw the edges of her mouth curl upward.
On my way back, I took a detour through her grass. The rock was still there, placed by her in a position of prominence in the middle of the garden. In black script so carefully written that it appeared printed from a computer was this quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.: “The Amen of nature is always a flower.”
I’m going to say that I think I have a pretty good idea of the ones behind all of this. These holy vandals, these ninjas of comfort and inspiration. I will guard their secret. Some day they may be unmasked, but never by me. In the meantime I will feign ignorance, and when my neighbors come calling, scratching their heads and smiling in something very much like wonder, I will say I have no earthly idea where the rocks came from or who put them there. I’ll even show them my own, the orange one I found against the side of the shed this morning. The one with the Robin Williams quote that says, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
I guess that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Changing things for the better. I don’t know of a single person who doesn’t pine for that, and to play their own part in it. It’s why I write books and why my wife teaches school, why my mother worked as a nurse for thirty years and my father drove a truck almost forty. I would even say that’s what drives you as well — to make things better. For the world, your family, yourself. I suppose in that respect, we’re not so different than God is to us. We love things too much to keep them as they are.
But here’s the thing that always seems to trip me up: those momentous events that are told and retold in books and movies and classrooms often began not with a rushing wave, but a ripple. Something tiny. Something almost inconsequential.
Something like a bunch of painted rocks.
Big things don’t always make a change. Most times it’s more little things done over and over again, laid out one after another, marking a path that leads us on. We don’t have to do great things to bring sunshine to the world. All it takes are little things done with great hearts.