Look Down Below

Up above

And down below

The street chalk has probably been washed away by the rain by now but the sentiment remains. And although his version of the USA has at least half of the 50 states removed and 3 extra original colonies, I still stand watching. I’m watching his blackened, calloused hands as the red from the stripes is gradually creeping up and under his fingernails the same way onlookers are hesitantly stepping into this piece of art. I’m watching them leave coins, not just on their flags, but even on the empty circles not yet filled in. I doubt they’ll stay to watch him finish but most of them trust at least 1 Euro’s worth and a heavily accented “Dankeschön” that he will. I’m watching my feet intentively too. I’m making sure I stand just outside the line as it curves past Uzbekistan, China, and Iran because I’m too afraid to step in and leave a coin. I’m too afraid that I’ll smudge one of the flags.

We turned an empty Saturday into a pilgrimage to the Köln Cathedral. And although it wasn’t officially finished until 1880, you can feel the weight of its Middle Aged history in the cold, drafty corners that even the vibrantly painted lights streaming through the stain glass windows cannot even reach. People flock to it from all over seeking inspiration from its structure alone. What persists to become fully self-recognized over several hundred years and stands through the destruction of a war that took several million deserves its title. Any monument, religious or not, that sweeps up so high in the clouds and so far across the history of mankind seems somewhat permanent compared to everything else. It’s bold. It’s unwavering. It’s content to remain at its peak of power indefinitely. It’s something that inspires most people to make a lasting impact on history; to be recognized by all and officially deemed a conqueror of time.

I, however, found my inspiration that day from some art in the street that no longer exists. I realize that as Americans we relish in the spotlight. Like the cathedral we stand proudly believing that we will surely see the next sunrise. But this privilege sometimes blinds us with pride and we fail to see what else lies among us. Like a street artist that creates in the shadow of a building said to be worth ten million of him, other countries and people struggle to be seen.

That is why stumbling upon my country’s flag in a circle of others, no matter how arbitrary its number of stars and stripes might have been, was the greatest thing that happened to me that day. For it was humbling to see it among other states which still fight for sovereignty and a fully recognized structure of their own. Kurdistan, Palestine, and Catalonia may certainly be overshadowed at this time by giant powers like the United States, but yet there they stood all the same. Disputed territories and partially autonomous regions that appear insignificant on the world-stage to Americans were there. The hope it brought to even a few onlookers seemed more inspiring than any building could be. In the end, power is privilege that can always be blown away as easily as chalk during a summer storm. But it is persistence and determination that survive the tests of time.

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