Today as I was listening to my favorite pop rock station, I was surprised to hear a country song fill the airwaves. I’m not a big country fan and if you are, please don’t feel offended. But this country song kind of intrigued me. It was called “Humble and Kind”, by Tim McGraw. The song speaks to many of the things that I value in my life. One line that brought back a rush of memories was, “help the next one in line and always stay humble and kind.”
It reminded me of a life changing moment from when I was about six years old. My family had just moved from Calgary to the tiny hamlet of Crawford Bay, BC. It was quite a distance between Crawford Bay and our nearest relatives and I was really feeling the loneliness of being separated from grandparents and aunts and uncles. As we got to know an older couple in our church, I went up to them one day and asked, “Can I adopt you to be my grandma and grandpa?” I really didn’t understand how audacious this question was, but fortunately they were quite humble and kind people and readily agreed. My new grandparents were Don and Ida Caston and I was immediately accepted into their family. Their acceptance was so complete that whenever I was over at Grandma and Grandpa’s I was even expected to wash dishes and help with chores around their small farm.
And it is grandpa that this Tim McGraw song reminds me of. Tim could have written it just for him. Grandpa Caston was a small man; quiet, gentle, humble and kind. But inside, there was an incredible strength of character and integrity. He always took care of others before he took care of himself. As I grew up watching this I didn’t know how much it was going to impact me until later in my life. One of Grandpa’s special talents was that he could fix anything. He was one of the handiest guys I have ever known. He was always ready to help others with anything that needed to be fixed. If he heard about someone having a problem with something he would try to fix it for them – without them ever knowing who had fixed it. I knew that he was doing this, but it wasn’t until his funeral that I found out the extent of his anonymous good deeds. After the ceremony there was an open mic time when people were invited to share stories of my Grandpa. This short story sharing time went on for nearly 2 hours. Person after person came up and told stories of times that my Grandpa had helped them out and the most intriguing thing was that many of these people didn’t know who had helped them until years, sometimes decades, later. In fact, many people at his funeral only realized who had helped them, as people were telling their own stories! It was like there were light bulbs going off all over the room. It started with a person talking about how they had mentioned to Don that their car wasn’t running properly. The next time he drove the car, it ran perfectly. It took the guy years to find out that Don had slipped over to their house when they weren’t home, fixed the problem and quietly went on with his day. Another time Grandpa had heard that somebody’s furnace wasn’t working. Once again he went over to their house when they were at work, fixed the furnace and never told a soul. Those were the days when people didn’t lock the doors! In this case for good reason! The one that really took the cake was the time that the boyfriend of a young mother in our community left her, just before winter. As he was usually the guy who got the firewood for their winter heating, this now newly single young mother didn’t have any firewood for the winter. My Grandpa called five or six people together (I was one of them) and on a day when she was not home, all of us filled her woodshed with more than enough wood for the entire winter. It took us a full eight hours. Grandma came over at lunchtime with sandwiches and ice tea for everyone. Imagine this single mom’s surprise coming home to that! Grandpa was a living, breathing example of it being more blessed to give than to receive and not letting the right-hand know what the left hand is doing. For me this was a life-changing, perspective shaping culture, first to watch, and as I got older, to become a part of. I still try to live the “others before self” approach.
Whenever I create public art I try to bring this same philosophy into the process. How can I create a piece of art that will be a blessing to people’s lives? How can I make this art benefit people in their every day experience? How can I give people something through this artwork that will be truly meaningful to them. Can this piece of art encourage, challenge or uplift people as they walk past it on the street? If this is accomplished, then this public artwork can be one of the building blocks of the community. Art can be a visual reminder of how we need to live in common unity. And like Grandpa’s secret acts of kindness, the public artist is often completely unknown to 99% of the people who look at their work. Only people who are really into art will take the time to figure out who the artist is that created that piece. But you know, after watching how my Grandpa had enriched the lives of people around him without them knowing who was doing it, I’m just fine with that!