by Troy Chapman
Markings — from the images of human hands, animals and geometric shapes on cave walls to a convict’s name gouged into the wall of a prison cell — demonstrate the powerful human urge to leave some evidence of our presence on earth. It’s why we alone in nature create images. We all want to say in some way, “I was here.”
The older I get the more time I spend thinking about a time when I won’t be here. And from these thoughts arise others about what I want to leave behind as evidence of my passing. I’ve boiled this down to the question: How do I want to say, “I was here”?
This isn’t just a question about lifelong legacy but also about the legacy of single days and even single moments. It’s morning as I write this but at the close of this day, what evidence do I want left of my having lived these 16 or so hours? How do I want to say “I was here” this October 6, 2008? Or even in this moment right now? In five minutes, what do I want to have left behind?
These questions make me ask another: How much of me leaves a mark on the world?
Certainly my actions do. If I mistreat people, discourage them, or in some other way bring them down, that will leave a tangible mark. Or vice versa: if I treat people kindly, encourage and lift them up, that will leave a tangible mark. But what about my thoughts, the energy of my consciousness? My beliefs and ways of perceiving? Do these leave a mark?
Psychiatrist Thomas Hora coined a phrase that I’ve found very useful in my life. He talked about being a “beneficial presence,” and for me the phrase resonates because it speaks to this energy level in our lives. Of course being a beneficial presence is partly about action, but it implies also that our mere presence — absent any outwardly directed action — can be beneficial (or detrimental, for that matter). We don’t only put tangible and measurable things into the world but also, by our very presence, constantly release something intangible, and I believe firmly that this energy of our presence leaves a real mark for good or for ill.
Like the convict carving his name into a cell wall or our ancestors leaving their marks on canyon walls, we are daily and momently carving our own marks into the invisible walls of the world.
Asking the question "How do I want to say, 'I was here'?" helps me remember this. It reminds me to ask what I want to honor with my markings. Do I want to leave angry, petty, or disparaging marks of my passing? Or thoughtful, inspiring and helpful marks? How do I want to say “I was here”?