I found myself in a Hollywood tattoo parlor six days after four airplanes were hijacked, two crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one in a Pennsylvania field. During the devastating chaos that first week following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, nothing made sense. Nothing, that is, except to get inked with a peace symbol. My tattoo symbolizes for me both world peace and inner-peace, both things that during that horrific week in 2001 seemed virtually unattainable. Nine years later, my dog Yoda and I embarked on a five-month Seeking Shama road trip around the United States. Shama means “inner peace” in Sanskrit, and my quest through my travels was to find what brings me shama. Needless to say, peace has been a big theme in my life.
Last week my boyfriend and I were invited to spend Easter brunch in New York City with Starr and Art, the curandera and shaman whom I met in Hot Springs, Arkansas during our road trip. I spent a month with them in 2010/2011, and as a result they have become some of my favorite people in the world. They were in town for the New Life Expo and the brunch was at the home of their friend Nancy Burson, a brilliant artist/photographer probably best known for creating the age-enhanced face morphing photography that the FBI uses to find missing people. When I meet people through Starr and Art, they are bound to immediately make their way into my heart. That’s because Starr and Art know interesting, kind, gentle, compassionate people – people just like them. I knew the moment that Nancy opened her door and welcomed us into her home that she is one of those people.
Soon after I arrived Starr grabbed the hands of both Nancy and me and took us into Nancy’s studio so I could see her artwork. Nancy’s art is stunning, and she has some pieces she is working on that are filled with colorful creative light. I can’t wait until she unleashes them onto the world. However there was one simple unassuming framed print on the wall to which I was inexplicably drawn. The background was white, and in slightly out of focus grey text, were the words Focus On Peace. From the moment we walked into the studio my eyes kept looking up at it, bringing me billowing mushrooms of emotion.
It turns out that Nancy’s “Focus On Peace” was a public art project she created for the first anniversary of September 11th. In partnership with Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in collaboration with Creative Time, this campaign distributed 30,000 postcards and close to 7,000 posters inscribed with the message “Focus on Peace.” The campaign was extraordinary and was meant to be a tool for healing and hope.
Nancy’s artist statement summarizes her intention with creating a work that consists of three unassuming yet very important words:
“What we see outside ourselves is a projection of what lies within. By asking people to “Focus on Peace,” we are asking them to focus on their own personal peace within, as well as the concept of world peace. There can never be peace until we have peace within ourselves. Therefore, real peace consists of all the pieces.”
Seeing how the message smacked me in the heart, Nancy signed a poster for me and gave it to me as a parting gift. It’s being framed and I’ll be hanging it in a prominent place in our house so that I see its message every day. Just like my tattoo, “Focus on Peace” will serve as a daily reminder of both inner peace and world peace. Because as Nancy says, there can never be world peace until we have peace within ourselves.