Heather L Johnson
In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful
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why

why.

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6 years. 3 journeys. 14 countries. 38,000 miles. 45 works of art, stitched on the road and given or left behind ..

It’s been a hell of a thing. Since 2013 my Search for the Frightening and Beautiful has taken me all over the western hemisphere into countless places and situations, some familiar, most of them not. I’ve found it in geographic and climatic shifts, in the tastes and textures of each town’s street food, and in every conversation I’ve had with someone new. I’ve only recently become truly conscious of how these experiences have altered my DNA, now that I’ve stopped for a chunk of time to process it all. Every detail I encounter, be it in some faraway land or in the tangle of freeway overpasses and train tracks across the yard from my street, carries meaning I no longer take for granted. Every person’s point of view has weight to it, even if – especially if – it is different from my own.

It’s this spirit, arising from the need to embrace difference, that compels me rather urgently to hit the road again this year.

Because it is 2019. Here in the United States we are divided, violent and mistrustful of one another. While our government builds walls, separates immigrant children from their parents, and slaps other countries with punitive tariffs, we citizens complete our own isolation behind the screens of our mobile devices, ordering products online instead of visiting stores, conducting relationships and getting our information from the instant plug-and-play façades of social media. We watch our backs, our fear growing thicker with every new public shooting or sensationalized news report. More often than not, we rant on Facebook rather than thinking up and carrying out effective solutions, the volume increasing with every post.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it isn’t this way. We are better than this.

All it takes is a catastrophe to prove it. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly 52 inches of rain on southeast Texas, flooding most of the city of Houston. My street took on over 4 feet of water, enough to carry people’s parked cars away; 30 miles north, 11 feet of San Jacinto River water took out a friend’s home and everything in it. Downtown, Buffalo Bayou left strands of grass stuck between bridge railings, and plastic chairs were later found lodged high in tree branches. Close to 100,000 houses and apartments were destroyed.. that’s a lot of strangers and more friends than I want to think about left homeless by the storm.

To survive, people helped each other. Those with boats risked their lives to carry the stranded to safety. People whose homes remained dry gave others shelter; and afterward, just about everyone I know donated money or volunteered their time cleaning out houses and businesses, risking exposure to black mold, toxic bayou chemicals and god knows what else out of love and sheer human decency. No questions asked.

Everyone has a story to tell. As humans, we have all undergone life-changing experiences of one sort or another that inform who we are. The essence of a lived experience carries meaning both due to and in spite of the circumstances by which we define ourselves. A story therefore has the potential to transcend cultural parameters of race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, politics or other belief systems or traits that bind us to and separate us from one another. Stories of lived experiences can therefore erode the barriers we place between one another in their ability to remind us all of our own basic, fundamental humanity.

It is for this reason I am launching In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful number 4 this summer.