Last week, I ended up in a hospital. The why and the how don’t really matter right now, but I need to tell you about the building itself: it’s a dismal, unfriendly, glassy place that resembles the departure lounge in a particularly bleak regional airport. So much so that the places you wait to see doctors and nurses are called “gates” and you get called to them. People sit around, except they don’t usually have luggage and they don’t queue. They’re going on holiday to a sad little hotel.
There’s a central covered corridor that runs down the length of the building, a wide, expansive grey marbled street. There are brightly branded high street coffee shops to try and convince you that you’re popping down the mall rather than going somewhere that people get wheeled out of on trolleys under slate-grey tarpaulins. Everything is clean but sterile and uninhabited. People walk slowly, shuffling, because they don’t really want to go where they’re going; they want another five minutes before this world and the world in which their lives might change in the way that breaks you forever.
On the wall, though, I saw a piece of art. “Please touch this artwork”, it said in friendly letters next to it. It was a raised, bumpy thing, with braille and lettering and all sorts of things to feel. Some of the handwriting loops melted onto brass, or bronze, or whatever it was, shone a little brighter than the others; perhaps they had been handled more times than anything else, like the nose of the bull in Florence that you rub for a bit of good luck.
“you are stronger than you think”, said the words. Below them, off to the side, it read: “kindness is everywhere.”
I looked around and couldn’t see any kindness. I couldn’t believe, at the time, I was strong at all. But I reached out with my fingers and touched the words, in case touching them might make them come true. You never know.
There is only art, sometimes.