North Carolina mural of 'life is beautiful, life is hard' becomes key site for those who are struggling

Historic shopping area in downtown Durham attracts people looking for a boost of hope

A new mural containing simple but profound words — "Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard" — as well as accompanying painting and imagery is resonating deeply in Durham, North Carolina, and becoming a popular destination for people who are struggling with personal challenges.

For its rare message of understanding and compassion amid tough personal challenges, people are flocking to it — with many taking photos and sharing them with others, according to Duke Today.

Kate Bowler, a cancer survivor and Duke Divinity School associate professor of American religious history, wrote the words in her best-selling memoir, "Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved."


"It comes from the belief that our culture loves to ‘bright side’ pain," she told Fox News Digital in an interview.

Bowler, the married mom of a young son, founded an initiative known as Everything Happens after she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer seven years ago, at age 35.

Kate Bowler of Everything Happens

Kate Bowler, pictured near the "Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard" mural in Durham, North Carolina — a destination site now for those experiencing personal challenges. (BURT / Fox News)

She said she survived, in part, by finding compassion among friends and strangers in her community.

"My interest in the cultural myths that surround our language to ‘think positively and good things will happen’ comes from my research around the prosperity gospel — the belief that if you have the right faith, you will be rewarded with wealth and good health," she also said.

Her goal, by acknowledging tough truths yet also sharing compassion, "is to support people as they confront the uncomfortable truth — ‘Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard’ — for everyone," she said.

"It’s been really fun to see the ways the mural has resonated with people."

Her team worked with developers at Brightleaf Square in downtown Durham, a charming area of shops, restaurants and walkways that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The team used a huge, empty wall on the outside of one of the buildings as a canvas for a positive message, Loren Pease, muralist and maker, told Fox News Digital in an interview.

mural in Durham, NC

The mural in downtown Durham, North Carolina, containing the words of Kate Bowler (shown above). Muralist Loren Pease of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was one of the those helped create the artwork. (BURT / Fox News)

Bowler’s team reached out to her about a year ago, said Pease.

"Finding the right color palette and look that felt joyful while remaining genuine to the quote was a fun challenge," Pease, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, told Fox News Digital.

She collaborated with their team designer on the digital design, tweaking colors, adding more flowers and extending them outside the "box."

Then she spent several weeks painting the mural this spring, also including the team in the process.

"It was fun to have Kate's team join me one afternoon to put a little paint on the wall themselves, too," Pease said.

"I took them up in the lift — and they added a few personal touches to the art, which we all enjoyed."

The mural’s location at 112 S. Duke St. has become a "pilgrimage site" for patients as they travel to Duke Hospital, Bowler told Duke Today.

"When I got sick, I was overwhelmingly lonely," Kate Bowler said.

"It’s been really fun to see the ways the mural has resonated with people," Bowler added.

Pease noted the mural expresses Kate Bowler's words visually in a graceful way that invites people to think about the idea.


"We often receive photos of people in front of the mural, and they share a bit of their story with us, which is exactly what I hoped for — that the mural’s message would remind people that they are not alone," Bowler added.

The mural gives people an opportunity to share the feelings expressed on the wall — even as they have trouble expressing those same thoughts to those close to them.

mural Jeb Burt

This mural in downtown Durham, North Carolina — in the historic Brightleaf Square district of shops and restaurants and not far from Duke Hospital — has become a destination site for those who need healing, comfort and understanding. People appreciat (BURT / Fox News)

"When I got sick, I was overwhelmingly lonely," Bowler said.

"I believe that in every moment I’m in pain, there are some things we have to do alone," she added.

But she also believes other people can help us feel "less alone."

Kate Bowler's Everything Happens Initiative supports "storytelling, research and spiritual formation."

The location was also chosen because it is one block from a gas explosion that tragically killed two members of the local community, according to Duke Today.

On her podcast, "Everything Happens," Bowler conducts frank discussions of grief, loss and beauty with a range of people. Her Everything Happens Initiative supports "storytelling, research and spiritual formation," according to its website.

butterfly mural

This is another mural painted by Loren Pease — it's on the side of a yoga studio in Pittsboro, North Carolina. "Some of the most rewarding" murals she's created, she said, have been for hospitals or other "traditionally sterile" environments. (Loren Pease / Fox News)

On the topic of colorful and meaningful murals, Pease shared her passion for this art form.

"While over my career I have painted in many public and private facilities, some of the most rewarding, and therefore my favorite, have been in hospitals, such as Duke Children's Hospital" in Durham, Pease said.

"Adding colorful murals to a traditionally sterile environment where children sit for hours getting chemotherapy is incredibly transformative," she said.

Loren Pease mural

Loren Pease created this mural in collaboration with another artist, Michael Brown, she told Fox News Digital. It's located at Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Loren Pease / Fox News)

Health care settings can often be intimidating for patients — but murals allow for a welcoming place for patients.

"I truly believe art is powerfully therapeutic, revealing the soul of the artist while touching the soul of the viewer at the same time," Pease added.


"The doctors and nurses share with me that patients love the murals — and often make up stories about the art on the wall. … [They name] the characters and imagine themselves in the story created in the art," she added.


She finds the ultimate satisfaction in bringing joy to others through her art.

"The Katie Bowler mural checked this box," added Pease.