Main | United We Sand Part 2: Bismarck Mandan »

The meaning behind the shirt...

As the floodwaters rise in the Bismarck Mandan area as well as those areas to the north in Devils Lake, and in Minot, ND. As the Fargo Moorhead area still deals with cleanup, damage and remaining floodwaters, I am called to take pause and reflect on the United We Sand campaign and what that means to me.

Inspired my those people and the experiences in a sandbag line in the flood of 2009, I searched for inspiration to visually represent the sense of spirit, the sense of comradery, the commitment to community that I experienced in that time. Unable to fully describe that sense of awe that I was experiencing and so proud to be a part of, I turned to what I saw around me for inspiration.

You see, if you have ever worked in a sandbag line, after a bit of time, you will notice that each individual will develop what I refer to is the "Sandbag Smudge." This smudge is a large area of sand residue which accumulates on the chest of each individual in the sandbag line.

During the flood of 2009, I frequently would run into people out and about, at the gas station and at the grocery store, at schools, and in restaurants who would be sporting the "Smudge." I noticed an interesting phenomena; when you saw one of those people you instantly knew something about them. That smudge alone told you something about their integrity, it was an indication that they were someone deserving of your respect, and your gratitude.

I noticed that people became friendlier, strangers striking up conversations about where they were working, who needed help, and where battles were being won and lost. I noticed community where indifference may had been before, I noticed engagement and I noticed humanity and compassion in epic proportions.

That's a lot to try to capture in one little graphic. By trade I am a designer, and artist, and creating a visual to represent an intangible feeling or service is one of he most difficult tasks. But then I remembered the smudge. That smudge was more than just dirt, it was in fact a badge of honor. 

So it was that visual that I chose to represent what I was feeling and experiencing, hoping that it would mean something to others as well. Once the visual was determined and created from a bit of fajita spice and cinnamon I found in my cupboard (every sandbag had better things to do) I set out to create the slogan which would work in concert further expressing the intent, should someone not understand the smudge reference.

I thought a bit about the words, I am a visual person, words aren't always my forte. The spirit I felt in those days was very patriotic, very American. So I ran through phrases and clichés that might work. I decide to place the words "United We Stand" across the smudge. I felt that it best captured the spirit for on a sandbag line, it is not one person who makes a difference, but a number of people working together for a common cause.

If a homeowner chooses only to protect the length of his own property bordering a river, the dike is sure to fail unless each neighbor chooses to do the same. It is an all or nothing endeavor. Sure, each homeowner could build a dike around just their home, but that isn't what a community does. A community comes together for the greater good. A community stands united.

So I go about typing the slogan across the replicated sand smudge. When I got to the end of the line I sat back to take a look. What I noticed was a typo. What I had typed was "United We Sand" and as my hand goes to hit the delete key to fix this error, I discover that what was there summed it up much better. Yes, it was a typo, divine intervention perhaps, that led to what you see today.

And then I shared it on Facebook, and people embraced it, people came forth and offered to help me share that, individual after individual stepped up to support it, to spread that message. I am still in awe over how it grew. All because of "one person." One person created some art, one person agreed to print it, one person agreed to carry it in their store, one person agreed to purchase a shirt, one person chose to share the information, one person chose to match the money raised. One person....

You see, that is the theme that has consistently run through this whole experience. One person, united with another one person can, literally, move mountains (or beaches in this case). So when you feel small and helpless, don't, think of this quote by Edward Everett Hale:

I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

I believe that is so fitting to represent what I saw; children helping to fill sandbags, people baking cookies, delivering sandbaggers to where they needed to be, teenagers actively taking charge and giving direction, getting the word out of where help was needed.

For me, in retrospect, the smudge and the shirt mean so much more. In a world that spins so quickly that it can be hard to keep your wits about you, your feet grounded, and focused on doing good in the world. It is more than just a shirt. That smudge, and those words represent a badge of honor for someone who;

  • is the kind of human being who gives of themselves to help another without asking for anything in return only because it is the right thing to do.
  • isn't willing to sit back and wait to be rescued, but one who takes action, and gets things accomplished.
  • sees the bigger picture that together we can accomplish more than we can individually.
  • that acknowledges that we truly have something worth fighting for, and saving
  • know that what is legal isn't always what is right.
  • that believes in the goodness of people.
  • when the muscles in their arms fail them, are willing to commit their heart, chest and entire body to the endeavor of getting things done.
  • understand that while fences might make for good neighbors, good neighbors make sandbag dikes.
  • witness the moral erosion of our society in the media every day, and instead of throwing up their hands in defeat, expect better of people, choose to be better people, standing up for what is right and good in our world.

So, I thank you for being who you are, for so generously embracing my artwork, and my typo, for treating me with respect and for wearing this badge of honor with pride. United We Sand.