BY HEATHER SPIVEY & JOANNA BRITT
If you aren’t familiar with the Signs of Hope project in the Sherwood Forest neighborhood in Winston-Salem, then please read Joanna Britt’s story below in her own words. It’s a message of hope and harmony for our community and beyond. I hope it inspires others and comforts many in this most unusual time in our lives.
I arrived home from a trip abroad with family just in time to experience North Carolina in lock-down. I spent the first few weeks of sheltering-in-place reading, meditating, listening to music, putting together jigsaw puzzles, and catching up with friends and family. But my nature screams at me to be “doing something.” As an artist, I felt like I should be painting, but there was no urging from a muse until I think I must have dreamed this sign idea. I was fortunate to have a (very giving) nephew who worked at Lowes hardware, who was willing to pick up and deliver wood for me. I had paint, I had brushes, and so it started.
Unpredictable events and circumstances bring people together to share life, even when we can’t physically embrace, and community is formed where it may not have been before. So many people walk past our house during these days! Whole families walking and biking together. It has been so much fun to watch families stop in front of our house and spend a little time choosing the sign that they’d like to put in their yard and then choosing one for their neighbor, almost a sacred experience for me. And to see children carrying them home and then see signs scattered around the neighborhood in the yards of people I don’t even know helped to fill my desperate need to feel normal again.
The need to feel normal and comfortable is very real. Even now, we are all busy. It’s not that we don’t care; it’s just that we don’t know how to do anything about the sadness that we see. This project was mine to do. I realized it was something that might matter just a bit.
One friend told me that her daughter, Marlowe, pets their sign every day as they leave the house, like it’s a dog…just as we should all nurture those kindnesses and keep them going! Another friend told me that her high school daughter, Mary Claire, had chosen “siblings” because she was so happy to have her older brother and sister home from college. And another neighbor chose “sister” as a nod to their new baby girl, due in June, little sister to James. One bike rider grabbed “rest” as he made his way back home after a long ride.
I don’t know how far the signs are traveling, but I do know that they’re starting to show up in neighborhoods other than my own. My “instruction” sign says, “Take one for yourself and one for a neighbor,” and I know people are doing that, especially for neighbors that are special to them or that aren’t able to get out themselves.
As we move forward and do get back to “normal,” I hope that these signs will help people remember how to be kind to each other and slow down just a bit, how to pass along a sprinkle of hope to neighbors and friends. I hope we will embrace our new understanding of how even the smallest things might do some good in this broken world.