It was 80 degrees last week when I visited my hometown of Cleveland, perfect for some beach time. Lake Erie is still very cold, and few people ventured into the water. Most sat in the sand and enjoyed feeling the warm breeze on their skin and the sunshine on their face.
The long, cold, lonely winter was gone.
Next to the public beach is a shaded park area. It’s framed by huge stones that were set in place long ago to prevent erosion. You can walk along the stones, sit on them, and enjoy the view. Many of the stones are covered with carvings by visitors, some from generations ago.
The inscription in the photo above was made on one of the large stones. It made me stop and wonder a few things.
Gloria and Curt: Who are they? How did they meet? What inspired one of them to carve this proclamation of love? Was this rock their special spot? How long did it take to carve this reminder?
How did their story turn out? Did they stay together? Break up? Get married and have kids? Do they come back to this rock now and then and think back on that time when they chiseled their love for everyone to see?
What’s their story?
So many questions! And one observation: Isn’t it interesting that we humans want so dearly to be remembered? How we go to such great lengths to leave a reminder?
Don’t we all want to say in some permanent way: I was here?
In my experience, there’s a little bit of Gloria and Curt in all of us. I’m not good at carving, but I’ve made a small thumbprint at the edge of fresh-poured concrete. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!) I’ve built a sand castle and left it behind as my mark on the beach.
A selfie is essentially the same thing. When we take a picture of ourselves in a place and then share it on social media, we’re saying, “Look at me! I’ve been to this place! And now everybody knows it.”
I was here.
Whether it’s our footprints on a beach or our inscription on a rock or our selfie on social media, we enjoy leaving our personal imprint. Each of us does it in our own way, and not just with chisel and hammer.
And not just on places.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we leave our imprint on the many people we touch. We do it through the ways we interact with them, the examples we set for them, the causes that we champion that affect them.
We all leave marks
Those marks may be hidden deep inside someone, but they mean so much more than anything we set in sand or stone. I remember the small acts that so many people have done for me throughout my life – wisdom imparted, kindness shown – that stuck with me and inspired me and helped to shape me into the person I am.
The hurtful moments leave a mark, too.
Each of us leaves a lasting mark on our world, for better or worse. Each of us has a legacy that endures long beyond our years. And we get to decide our legacy.
We decide what we’ll etch into the lives of others.
One of my favorite verses from the Hebrew scriptures is the one that has our divine parent reminding each of us: “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” It tells each of us that we are loved so deeply, so unconditionally, and so permanently that we are literally carved into the hands of the One who created us and who sustains us.
We are part of Them.
We are here
And it’s not just our name that’s carved on those hands, nor is it just our initials framed by a heart and stamped with a date. No, it’s us – all of us, just as we are. We can’t ever be forgotten, we can’t ever be rejected, we can’t ever be rubbed off
Nothing can erase you or me.
We are here. Always.
Of course, there’s a flip side to it: We must allow others to engrave themselves within our hearts as well. And that part is often painful and unsettling and downright scary.
Love means making ourselves vulnerable enough to allow others inside. Even when they’re etching with shaky hands. Even if they draw with crooked lines. Especially then.
We have to make space for them inside of us and invite them to say in their own way: I am here.