Textual Description of "Graced Dignity"

Artwork at the Mental Health Association of Northwestern PA

A painted garbage can lid.

That’s what Graced Dignity is. A chance for something unmindfully used to be worthy…even honored. My, my, what a few coats of paint and a couple of beads can do.

The piece was originally created for a MIAW campaign called The Faces of Mental Illness, but I finished it too late for anything to be planned. What does one do with a painted garbage can lid, anyhow? Although our house is pretty darn eclectic, I didn’t have the wall space for it, so I donated it to the MHA. Thank you for hanging it in such a well-used space.

To explain the verse, when I first read anything of Thomas Merton’s I was an adult college student studying religion. Seemed like a safe major. I had been cruising right along, when summer came and my husband drove to Boston to bring our middle son home from MIT. Always an eloquent writer, his emails and letters from school had become quite odd; some alarming. The ride back to Erie was disturbing. Months later, our son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. It was the end of his sophomore year.

Funny, we were supposed to finish college at the same time and have a big party.

I stayed in school, but contracted my major to include Human Development and Family Relations. Religion wasn’t so important any more…now it was personal. When I read Seven Storey Mountain, I was quite sure Merton had experienced some of what my son was going through, so I read more. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander seemed warily familiar. The quote within the design of Graced Dignity is from this writing. It is there in defense of all those who have been marginalized, brushed away, unnoticed, refused, denounced, and unloved. It is there for my son’s loneliness.

That first summer, any high school chums that came to call were met with unrelenting silence or rambling. They very soon stopped coming. Extended family let us alone; what could they do? There was only us, and within the “us,” Jeremy was alone.

Life is better now, but we are all changed. Mental illness exposes human vulnerability. Once you’ve had a long look at that, you tend to tread a bit more lightly. It puts everything in question. What is a life worth? Why are some lives deemed more worthy than others?

I know I have been deeply and richly blessed specifically because I have been witness to profound brokenness and great transformations. There is no doubt in my mind that there is real power when we grace one another with dignity.

Missi Berquist, artist

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