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Subway artist surprises commuters, sends important message of peace

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Lukasz Stefanski | Shutterstock

Sarah Robsdottir - published on 08/26/21

"You matter," he writes at the top of each masterpiece, bringing some recipients to tears.

With the headlines full of heartache and horror, I found myself captivated this morning by a video of an artist known as the Subway Sketcher.  I watched mesmerized as this talented young man drew a portrait of the girl sitting across from him on the underground train. He topped it off with the banner “You Matter” and handed it to her.

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A post shared by Devon Rodriguez (@devonrodriguezart)

The reaction was much like the rest of the reactions from other surprised subjects I sat watching for the next long while — wide-eyed joy mixed with gratitude and tears of wonder. Each moment so tender — two strangers meeting for the first time, but finding that they are — not strangers at all. 

It’s interesting that the faces the Subway Sketcher captures are mostly partially masked for the COVID-19 pandemic, yet the effect of his work is still incredibly powerful. The eye contact, the awe — the celebration of the timeless idea that human beings are the “image bearers of God,” summed up in a morning commute.

Something really important is happening here! I concluded early on, sitting in my pajamas far too long as I rewatched the videos with my kids, Something so much more than just a wildly talented artist handing out surprise portraits …”

That’s when Catholic thinker Devon Demarco’s words rang in my mind, that “peace begins when we look into the face of another person.” His lovely article The Human Face and the Way of Peace was first published at National Catholic Register, and calls on the wisdom of many well-known philosophers and psychiatrists, as well as several popes: 

“The face speaks. It speaks of love and is the beginning of all subsequent discourse.”

Demarco proposes,

The mother’s face is like the face of God for her baby. Looking into her face, the infant comes to believe that the world outside the womb is safe and trustworthy … In a world of widespread depersonalization, in which people move about side-by-side rather than face-to-face, a reflection on the profound significance of the human face is critically needed.

Demarco goes on to reference Max Picard, the Swiss psychiatrist whose book The Human Face “has earned him renown as the poet of the human face. [Picard] states that ‘God enters man’s face as a friend enters the house of a friend—without a stir. The face is a tempered image; it is the mildness of God that appears in the face of man.'”

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