Butterflies, Rainbows, and Paint

Early on an evening at the end of July, dozens of community members from the south side of Brownsville came together to begin to design a mural for the community clinic’s wall.
The clinic’s pediatrician laid out the evening’s task. “We want to create a mural that says “welcome” to everyone. What things should we think about painting?” she said.

The children, and their parents and grandparents, leaned forward in their chairs.

“A rainbow,” ventured one young girl, “I think that a rainbow would be nice.”

“Balloons!” chimed in her little brother.

“Mariposas, me gustan las mariposas (butterflies, I love butterflies),” responded a third child, referring to the butterflies that are such a part of the south Texas landscape.

The adults at the meeting shared their thoughts as well. One liked the idea of a mother reading to her children. A grandmother that was in the group insisted on the presence of a tree. A local artist, musing on the theme of butterflies, quietly suggested “What if we had a stream of butterflies coming down out of the sky, then changing into children who land upon someone’s welcoming hand?”

The meeting came to an end. The community design maven collected the notes, and organized some sketching exercises. The pediatrician thanked everyone for their time, and told them she would be back in touch when the wall was ready for painting.

Months later, on a bright, cool November morning, a knot of  people stood beneath the giant white wall on the front of the clinic.  The mural that had been planned had been sketched out in pencil, and now was waiting for color. As if on cue, the butterfly migration from Central America had peaked, and butterflies were all over the place—floating, colorful bits of beauty.

Paint and brushes were distributed, and the artists—adults and children, the experienced and the novices—plunged in.

A clear-eyed girl was laughing at herself in the manner that is the privilege of eleven year olds. “I put more paint on me than on the wall!” she exclaimed.

Another child had carefully created a heart carved into a tree. A girl painted large swaths of red on one band of a rainbow that reached far above her head. Back in the summer, she had had an idea about a rainbow, and now she was busily making it real.

The adults worked as well, giving up a Saturday and then a Sunday. A large hand formed, and then a tree. Up high, the arc of the rainbow began its turn back to earth.

Neighbors walking down the sidewalk paused, watching as the colors created an image. “!Mira!” shouted a little girl, pointing at the wall, “I like it!”

Throughout the day, butterflies continued to float across the clinic’s parking lot, searching for a place to settle down for a bit, a place that would welcome them with some shade, some flowers, and, maybe, a bit of a rainbow.


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