Gifts From The Hearts Of West Coast Visitors Offer 'A Mantra Of Hope To The Community'

Published: December 21, 2018 at 07:00 am


“I hope U know how loved U are”

Dave Maldonado and Noah Reich have been traveling across the country in recent months, departing from their home in the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles and spreading that message to communities that have been affected by mass shootings.

They arrived in Newtown on December 10, with plans to not only stay in and explore the town for just under a week, but also to create gifts for the community ahead of the sixth anniversary of 12/14.

Seated within the office of The Newtown Bee on December 14, the two men talked about their journey. Their efforts to share a message with others in pain began in June, on the second anniversary of the shootings at Pulse nightclub.

“For me and Dave, that was an event that yet again kind of shifted the tectonic plates within,” Mr Reich said Friday afternoon. “Anything that we knew to be true fell into question.”

After most shooting incidents, he said, “there’s this energy of ‘We’ll never let this happen again,’ ‘We’ll never forget this,’ and somehow we keep going, almost as a survival tactic.

“Dave and I have, over the past six months, we have been creating pieces with one singular message,” Mr Reich said. “There has been so much that our communities, our country, our world has been going through.”

The first instinct for many people, he said, is to step back and shield themselves from the pain of a tragedy, even those that may not directly affect their lives.

“What happened here in Sandy Hook six years ago broke our hearts, and broke the world’s hearts,” Mr Reich said. Like so many people, they also felt like they “weren’t processing anything. It was one thing after the next, and both of us felt that dark journey of the soul. Often the first instinct is to step back and shield ourselves from that pain,” he added.

When the second anniversary of the Pulse shootings was approaching, the two began really thinking of the 49 people killed while dancing and socializing inside the Orlando nightclub two years earlier.

“We had drifted away from the stories; we had drifted away from the pain and the promise to never forget,” he shared. In June, the first piece with the “I hope U know how loved u are” message was created, and it was placed in Los Angeles. The message that accompanies each piece of art, Mr Maldonado explained, “is an extension of the love we were given by our mothers.”

Both men are very close to their mothers, “who have been champions of hope and persistence for us,” he continued. Their message of love has been ingrained into each piece of art they have made “as an intersection of the motherly love that formed who we are today and a mantra of hope to the community.”

Since June, the pair has also created pieces for the first anniversary of the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas in October, and last month, shortly after the November 7 shooting at a bar and grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., that claimed the lives of 12 people.

“We came to the East Coast to create that heart,” Mr Maldonado said of the approximately 5½-foot-tall-by-six-foot-wide work of art that was placed at the corner of Glen Road and Church Hill Road on December 13. What drove them, he said, was “the idea that six educators, and children — most of them six years old — were all lost six years ago.”

The heart carried the message the two have been sharing, along with 26 bouquets of flowers.

“We haven’t forgotten,” Mr Reich said. “We will continue telling the stories, keeping the memories of those that were lost alive.

“We are also driven by the one singular belief that everyone is deserving of kindness, of love, of peace,” he added. “For us, the way to honor those lost to gun violence is by honoring life and the present.”

The men stayed at a private home in town they found through Airbnb, the online service that helps travelers find lodging. They worked while staying in Newtown, crafting the large heart so that it could be put into place last Thursday afternoon.

They arrive at each location where they want to create a piece, they said, with a general idea of what they will build.

“We like to spend time in a community, learning about the community,” Mr Maldonado said.

The creation of each piece is “a meditation of sorts,” Mr Reich said. “We work while learning about each person we are honoring.”

Both are artists — Mr Maldonado does freelance production coordination for film and television, he said; Mr Reich works for Walt Disney Imagineering. Their hearts, Mr Reich commented, best communicate through art.

“Art is a healthy way to deal with pain,” Mr Maldonado said.

“We can be quite quiet and fall into a meditation of what we are doing,” Mr Reich added.

In addition to the large heart placed in Sandy Hook Center last week, the two men also created 26 smaller wreaths or tributes, which they placed around town on Saturday, December 15, “one in honor of each person lost six years ago,” Reich said via e-mail on December 17.

Each hand-crafted heart also carried the message of love, was decorated with flowers, and each bore the name of one of the victims of 12/14. The tributes were created using small pairs of shoes, more flowers, and a name. The wreaths and tributes were placed along Main Street in Newtown and in Sandy Hook, including the park on Glen Road, the Welcome to Sandy Hook sign on Washington Avenue, and at the Sandy Hook School sign, among others.

Each piece, Mr Reich said last week, “was left to honor the beauty that was taken away.”

Like so many residents have learned and incorporated into their lives since the Sandy Hook School shootings, Mr Maldonado and Mr Reich practice intentional kindness.

“One simple message, one act of kindness, can really be a life-saving measure. Often, we go through so much, and we experience so much, that just a reminder can be that thing that brings us back home to ourselves,” he said Friday afternoon.

On December 17, as they set off toward Pennsylvania — their final stop before returning home would be the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were shot to death in October — Mr Reich offered a final thought on why he and Mr Maldonado have been working to find peace within their hearts, while doing the same for others.

“Kindness is a muscle that we work on strengthening in every aspect of our lives, and it’s the root of everything that we do when we create.”





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