Recently I attended my niece’s high school graduation. It was a lovely day, warm and breezy with a chance of thunderstorms. The graduates were radiant and the storms kept their distance so we could all be there for the ceremony, living the life of luxury in our folding chairs out on the AstroTurf of the football field. As with most graduations, the festivities started with speeches by dignitaries, school officials and graduating students. While I might usually glaze over during these speeches, for some reason I listened this time. There were inside jokes poking fun at a favorite teacher and there were references we in the audience didn’t understand because they referred to memories that only the graduates could have. There were the wishes of good luck from administrators and teachers and fellow students. And, of course, there was the typical overabundance of youthful excitement and hope that yes, this will be the group of young adults who will cure cancer or solve the world’s financial crisis or bring forth world peace—the excitement and hope that I and too many of the people who have reached my age have, perhaps, forgotten how to have.
But the most important thing, or better put, the thing that has stuck with me since that afternoon, were the themes of purpose, legacy and footprints—the idea that we all have a need, a duty, and a chance to leave our mark on the world. We all are born; we all die – the things we do in between are what make us unique and memorable. Clearly, this is not a new idea. But for some reason, the thoughts about these concepts kept swirling around my head for the five and a half hour drive home.
As artists, we have the ability to leave our footprints on the world in so many ways. I think about the painters, composers and authors from past generations whose works we admire today. When they were toiling away at creating them, were they thinking their work would be considered valuable hundreds of years in the future? Or were they like me—”just writing” or “just painting” or “just making music” for that specific moment in time, getting their idea down on paper so that there was room in their heads for new ideas to come in? Or, perhaps, did they have a larger plan for how they were going to leave their mark on the world, with each individual piece they created being just another part of the larger puzzle they planned?
Clearly, until we invent time travel, we cannot know exactly what they were thinking at the time. But on my long drive home that Sunday afternoon, I imagined all kinds of scenarios of what they might have been planning. For example, I imagined that Shakespeare was planning a large set of theme parks based on his plays (The Tempest might be a fantastic roller coaster!). Beethoven was planning to have scantily-clad orchestra stars acting and dancing on stage in theatrical extravaganzas that had nothing to do with the actual music, pretending to play their instruments while an orchestra of unknowns hid behind the curtain actually playing his symphonies. And, as you might imagine, Salvador Dalí was going to open a chain of fancy eateries where the food was so good it would literally melt right off the plate and into your mouth.
It got me to thinking about my own plans for
world dominationleaving my mark. I write because I like to write but also because I have to write – the ideas fill up my head so much that I can’t move on without getting them out. But are these stories my mark on the world, my legacy? Long ago I made a decision that my mark on the world would be biggest if I established a religion based on the powerful awesomeness of coffee. For a while I thought my Holy Beaneologic Church was well on its way to a solid foothold in the world – in 2008 our first holiday traditions began forming and I read somewhere that in 2011, a record number of people participated in our highest, most holy ceremony, The Anointing of the Decaf, in preparation for the stimulation of full Encaffeination within the church. However, the Tea Totallers, a splinter group of religious protestors, sprung up and started talking nonsense about the sanctity of tiny, little tea leaves. This fracture has slowed the growth of my church but it has not diminished my resolve to continue to fight to leave my mark on the world. Coffee drinkers unite! We shall defeat this uprising and the resulting victory will provide just the jolt we need to rule the world!
But I digress.
Deep down, I think we all have the desire and the ability to leave a mark on the world, something to say to future generations, “Hey! I was here! I mattered!” Whether it’s the formation of a beverage-based religion, raising well-adjusted children or developing a cure for an “incurable” disease, the key to me is to have a positive impact on others. I coach my son’s baseball team. I hope my love and enthusiasm for the game comes through to the kids and that perhaps, sometime in the future, they’ll remember that I taught them to throw or taught them to not be afraid to stand in the batter’s box. Will they remember me in 5 or 10 or 20 years? I don’t know. But if the kids can look back at their days in little league and remember me even a little bit… I will have left my mark.
Similarly, I don’t know if people will be reading my stories 5 or 10 or 20 years from now, let alone hundreds of years from now. I think that’s not really for me to decide or even to speculate about at this point. But I do believe that if my stories or plays provide entertainment to people then they are at least a small footprint for me to leave behind. Those of us doing this today have an advantage that perhaps our predecessors like Shakespeare, Beethoven and Dalí didn’t have: the internet. My stories are on the internet and as I tell my kids in my cautionary tales about using the internet safely: nothing ever goes away once it is on the internet.