We The Willing

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I didn’t even see the words…

A small group of us stood on the roof of a beaten down warehouse, looking back over the Manhattan skyline as the sun set, wind sweeping all shoulders upward. The place was 5Pointz, also known as “The Institue of Higher Burning,” one of the world’s great epicenters of graffiti and street art. Two hundred thousand square feet of jaw-dropping, aerosol expression on walls, floors, roofs, doors and windows.

We’d spent the last two hours on a private tour, led by the self-appointed curator and artist extraordinaire, Meres One.

The depth of work floored me, full wall pieces “burned” by teams of artists from around the world that seemed to envelop you.

I glanced down to steady my footing on the old tar-cloth roof, and that’s when I saw it. In white paint on black tar. Brooding with the grit of mission and intention…

I can’t read the tag, so I don’t even know the name of the author/artist to attribute it to. The quote, however, is an edited version of one attributed to Mother Teresa that reads:

“We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.”

The words, the message, the urgency and sense of mission that pours from them.

That’s the place where epic journeys are birthed. This one was more than a decade in the making. The impossible vision of one man who started a movement to elevate, then preserve an artform…

Nothing is beyond reach when you align vision with soul and action…


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44 responses

44 responses to “We The Willing”

  1. Greg wise says:

    You really make me think about life in a different way… Thank you!
    Soon ti be inspired… GAW

  2. This level of creativity is the norm for humans — social media is showing us that.

    Now we can never go back to a world in which some people get to create and others are viewed as devoid of talent. Never.

    Thank you for this post and your spectacular photos.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Totally agree. Creation is a state that’s in all of us, but as we turn into grown ups, the willingness to own what comes from our minds get increasingly shut down until we convince ourselves that not only are we not creative, but whatever we do create isn’t worthy.

  3. Awesome work and coverage. Thank you!

  4. Pat Gabay says:

    Fabulous,,, exciting beyond words Yay!

  5. Wow, that is hawt! Imagine if everyone felt they had permission to write on the walls that way? Thanks for sharing, Jonathan. These are the important shares….

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Kind of like what Randy Pausch said in his famed Last Lecture, let your kids write on the walls. Not sure how well it’d go over in most households, lol. One wall in my home office is whiteboard paint and my daughter often doodles away on it

  6. “Nothing is beyond reach when you align vision with soul and action…” very inspiring =) Thank you for sharing.

  7. Awesome post! Definitely the best one I’ve read today… Many Thanks! 🙂


  8. Fantastic! I have such a love of urban art and this is a crown jewel – thanks for sharing!

  9. Michi says:

    Great art and great post. Thank you. The art reminds me of the French photographer JR (he covers the world with gigantic photos of ordinary people in their environment). This is similar, present your message, your art for anyone to see.

    “Nothing is beyond reach when you align vision with soul and action…”. That line pulled me back on track with my own vision. I needed to read that today. Feel the gratitude 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Off to google JR, love public art, especially when it revolves around people

  10. WOW! Truly inspiring!

    It reminds me of an extraordinary woman I recently met while traveling in South America. At one month old, Julia’s son caught a virus that left him deaf. Being a French professor, Julia did not accept that her son would never learn how to speak. However, in Valparaiso, Chile, nearly forty years ago, there was nothing to educate the deaf. Julia and her husband made their way to France, there she was able to conduct research to acquire the tools needed to teach her sone how to speak. Following the work of Ann Sullivan and a hard long struggle, her son is now able to carry on a conversation by reading lips and speaking.

    This experience lead Julia and her husband to find their mission, their vocation…they thought about the other kids back in Valparaiso who did not have the same opportunities as her son. They made their way back to open an institution to teach others all the knowledge they had acquired over the many years of teaching their son. They were refused support by the government and the banks. This did not stop them! They sold some of their properties and agin faced many challenges, but, never gave up. Today, nearly twenty-five years later, the institute is still a success!

    She is a true example of: “Nothing is beyond reach when you align vision with soul and action…”

    Thanks for sharing Jonathan, inspiring stories help contribute in making a difference:)

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Love that story. Thanks so much for sharing it. Makes you realize how much of success comes down to grit and vision

  11. Jeff Goins says:

    Love that Ma Teresa quote.

  12. menaz says:

    wow so inspiring <3

  13. Andrea says:

    I SO needed to read this post today. Thank you! Both the artwork and your insightful commentary made my soul leap for joy. Amen, Brother!!

  14. Josh says:


    That place looks amazing and inspiring. I would love to visit it someday. Thank you so much for sharing this story with me; there is something about that art that makes it feel so relevant to passion, purpose and mission.


    • Jonathan Fields says:

      It was an incredible place, Meres has been the driving force there for more than a decade. Without him, it’d just be an old building. Now it’s infused with soul and stories

  15. I’m no artist, but I love art and this post was amazing.

    I love seeing examples of people following their passion with action. It’s so true – each of us has something to offer in a unique way and when you follow through there will always be someone that’s interested in what you have to offer. I’m glad I found your site through Chris Guillebeau, it definitely made my day.

    So THANK YOU to you and 5Pointz for sharing!



  16. Jonathan Fields says:

    Amazing story about the first piece – the kid with the hood. Apparently, the artist was on his way over to 5Pointz not intending to paint, but just to check it out. He saw a kid on the subway and took his picture. He was so inspired that he then painted the image onto the wall in his trademark oversized pointilist style.

    But, here’s the even cooler part. Not the pupils in the kid’s eyes. They are hearts. According the Meres, the artist has now become very successful with shows in major galleries and he paints all of his subjects with heart shaped pupils as a show of gratitude.

  17. Lisa Young says:

    Creativity gets “shoulded” out of us as we “grow up” – and it’s heartbreaking. Willingness is the birthplace of creativity – and courage is the momentum that keeps us creating.

    When we move out of “the shoulds” and back into willingness, miracles can happen.

    Great photos, Jonathan. Thanks for sharing!

  18. I love how you shared this. You got some great photos!

    Did you find JR’s TED talk? Simply amazing.

  19. Janie says:

    Inspiring. Thanks for sharing

  20. Aaron says:


    I can appreciate the beautiful pictures from your post, but how does someone fulfill their purpose when they lack a sense of vision and feel like their creativity has disappeared with the passage of time? I guess what I’m trying to ask is can someone ever regain a “state of play” in one’s life no matter what one’s age is? Thanks.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      You can reclaim a state of play, a sense of vision and purpose any any point in your life. Fact is, it never leaves us, rather we just layer judgments, filters and blinders over it until we can longer see and feel it any longer. But it’s always been right there, just under the surface. The work is in liberating and taking ownership of it

  21. Lonnie says:

    Wow! Those are amazing works of art. I love street art. It’s real, raw, and not trying to do anything but express what the artist feels at that moment.

    I highly recommend a documentary called, Exit Through The Gift Shop. I’m confident you will love it based on this post.

  22. Hi Jonathan,

    I am a huge fan of this kind of street art because it’s another form of creative expression. It sometimes gets a bad rap, but in certain areas you might call it urban beautification. There’s a great program here in Seattle where kids who have a certain talent and have to do community service create murals throughout the city. It’s very successful.

    This is also a way for artists without other creative outlets to express themselves. My teenage son does this brilliantly, on paper and I’be been trying to get him to setup a T-shirt site for a couple of years with little success 🙂

    Anyway I appreciate the artwork here and the message contained in the post.

  23. Ralph says:

    Jonathan, I am a huge fan of street art.

    Last summer I spend most of May-Aug travelling around Toronto photographing the artists work here. It’s such an interesting culture. Graffiti in Toronto is not reveered but more tolerated and there is, like many places, a ton of tagging that does gather some rousing criticism here.

    The expression behind the work is incredible and the fact that is it done with such meaning, such urgency, has always inspired me. What’s important, to me, about capturing this artform on film is that the images are forever captured which in itself is an antithesis to what the work is about.

    I have been thinking about what to do with the 300+ photos I already have.

    Anyone have any ideas for me?

  24. Hey Ralph! Sounds like you’ve collected some great photos of peoples’ work… Just a suggestion, but something pretty simple would be to start by posting them in batches to either Flickr or Picasa (Google). At that point, at least they’re all hosted online with unique URL’s. From there it would be beneficial for you (and the artists) to share the pics around in relevant communities. Eventually you may even locate most of the artists and link them up… There’s definitely a lot of hunger out there for “street art”, evidenced by the brilliant film “Exit Through the Gift Shop”.

    I’ve sat on tons of pics over the years that really should be shared around… I’d start by getting them online as quickly and as easily as possible. From there, you’ll be inspired to ping them out to people who will appreciate them and come back to consume the whole set. Just my $.02.

    Great article, JF!!! Very inspiring. I love being the goofball With The Jazz Hands. Actually, I callem JASSHANDS.


  25. John,

    Thanks for the post. There are so many talented people out there with so many gifts. My gift is being an athlete as a marathoner. It is what I know and have been passionate for over 20 years. These artists, I am sure have been doing it for just as long. I always marvel over all the talents that have been given to the human race. Some are born to teach, to paint, to inspire. All have a purpose.

    Appreciate the post.


  26. Kat Fort says:

    Hope it helps, the tag is signed by “Charms”

    I love being from Seattle. Not only do we have exceptionally creative residents capable of equally creative street art, we also receive the “espresso art.” Such a nice way to start the day, seeing a new image in my coffee every morning.

  27. Ralph says:

    KC, thanks for the idea! That’s awesome (why didn’t I think of that). Some are already on my flikr page but I like the idea of dedicating a page to just the TO street art. I checked around and naturally i’m not the only person that’s done this.

  28. Jonathan Fields says:

    Too funny, now that you’ve “translated” the tag, it’s clear as day. lol. Thanks!

  29. I would agree completely that social media has the ability to birth and inspire creativity. With all it’s downfalls, this is where it can not be outdone. The “average” person can be inspired by the “average” person. I am always in awe by us humans, the ones right next door and far away. We are lucky to be in a time where we can be inspired by the amazing works, thoughts and actions of those far away. Thanks for sharing these works of “average” humans showing us that if we dig alittle deeper “we can…”

  30. […] is a sad reflection of the employee/employer dynamic in some companies.  I saw this quote on Johnathan Fields’ blog and learned that it was attributed to Mother […]

  31. What was the context of her comment or do you know what setting it was said or written in?

  32. There is something very refreshing about your blogs. I’ve been reading a lot of them and sending them around. Please keep them coming. It’s been awhile since I’ve been excited about a blogger. Much appreciated. Oh, and consider adding the “LinkedIn” sharing option. Thank you. JT.

  33. Brandy says:

    I’ve had a long time love affair with the hip hop culture (I used to want to be a rapper – scratch that – I’m practicing my cadence . . . some day). Hip hop oozes creativity. Graffiti plays the visual creative role, and is, of course, drawn on the streets because that’s the hub. It’s powerful and striking and hard to “get” if you’re not living it. It’s exclusive. And it tells a fascinating narrative – one that many people could relate to and learn from if only they would try.

    The Mother Theresa quote is perfect. Kolkata is another place where life is lived on the street. The quote is haunting, as it should be. For me personally, it lights a fire in my heart. If these people that I look up to can create such beauty a midst such difficulty and (at least in Kolkata) despair. Surely I can do something with the bounty of resources I’ve been given. Surely I have an obligation to do just that.

  34. Awesome work and coverage. Thank you!

  35. Awesome art works! There is really nothing impossible if we are WILLING. With God and that willingness, we can do ANYTHING! 😉