Graffiti and love in the North of England

Advent 1 2016

It is not often that I gain inspiration in a public toilet, but on one very cold commute across the north of England I was reminded that God works in the strangest of places. I don’t know what men’s toilets look like, but in ladies loos there are often posters placed inside cubicles. I had a few moments between trains, and I popped in and found that the advert for a breast cancer charity had been defaced by graffiti. But the defacement was rather unexpected. For all over women had scribbled their stories and messages:

 My mam went for a mammogram and we caught it early.

 You are all brave and empowering women

 I too got over it, it is not just lumps though.

 Stay strong ladies. and remember to talk to your loved ones. You will get through it

 I almost lost my mum. Please check yourself

 Love is a fact

I got out my pen, and, for the first time in my life, graffitied on the wall of a public toilet.

In this cold, and bleak platform toilet I found something totally unexpected: messages of love left behind by woman to be read by unknown strangers, solidarity for the suffering coming out of personal experiences of pain and loss. This collection was a poster sized community for anyone who read it, an unexpected beacon of hope whose authors would never know the dark places into which their words would shine.

Emerging back on to the windswept platform, I joined the throngs journeying to trains or out into the street. Strangers just like those who had bravely left messages for those affected by cancer. And I was reminded that everyone is has a story of pain and suffering in their lives. Everyone is on a greater journey and everyone needs help and support on the way. The need for healing is so great that it can seem overwhelming. But perhaps it is as simple as telling our story, showing our wounds and taking a moment to listen. In all the haste and busyness this is not always easy, nor is it ever a quick fix solution to often complex problems. But when we act in solidarity with the suffering, when we are brave enough to share our own story of pain so another may be comforted then the message ringing with healing clarity: ‘you are not alone’.

This Advent I am aiming to slow down and to spend more time listening to God and being aware of his presence all around me, in both the beauty and the pain. It is after all the great season of waiting and watching, and, if the birth of the God-man in a shed in Bethlehem tells us anything, it is that God works in the strangest of places, even in the public loo on Platform 5 at Manchester Piccadilly train station.