By Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO
Photo by Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO
This has been an odd week, one in which several unrelated events seem to be telling me something, but the meaning of these messages remains elusive. Twice in the last few days, I’ve found myself ruminating over fingerprints. Well in one case fingerprints, in the second, claw marks. But in both cases I am ruminating over the marks we leave behind as we pass through the world.
Let me start with the fingerprints. A week ago in the wee hours of a snowy night, an enterprising individual dispatched a window from my daughter’s 1998 Honda CRV and removed the car’s stereo. As a similar fate befell several other cars on the block, the police speculate that we were the victims of a contest between individuals desiring to join a fraternal association striving to see who could collect the most car stereos in one night. The following evening two gentlemen from Denver’s volunteer CSI unit came to our home and diligently dusting CDs that had been in the car, looking for fingerprints. One clear print was found, lifted and dutifully run through their database. Most likely it was left either by my daughter, one of her friends or possibly me, and not the person who removed the stereo.
Later in the week, this same precious daughter accompanied me on our annual ‘hut trip’ organized by the naturopathic professional association in Colorado. Those of you not from Colorado may need some explanation of what a ‘hut trip’ is. In Colorado there exist things called ‘huts’ that are built and maintained by a prosperous non-profit group based in Aspen called the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association.
The term hut is a poor descriptor as in fact these structures are large, beautifully crafted buildings, situated in gorgeous spots in our National Forests. [Then again, relative to the houses in Aspen, they are huts.] The ‘huts’ were originally built for winter travelers, though the Hut Association now rents out sleeping space year-round; demand is so high that a lottery system is used to allocate reservations fairly.
We traveled in to this particular hut by ski through a wonderland of freshly fallen snow, climbing almost 3,000 feet over the six-mile trip in. A three thousand foot climb might not sound like much, but as the last trudge uphill was at an elevation over 11,000 feet, we were feeling it.
Early on our journey we crossed a clearing with a single tall Aspen tree in the center. Pausing to catch our breath and adjust our packs, I found myself staring at what first seemed to be random scars on the tree’s bark. Slowly, these markings coalesced into a recognizable pattern; a bear had once climbed high in the tree and each step of the way its claws had dug deeply into the bark. Probably a frightened bear by how deep the marks were and how high up the tree they went.
A criminal’s finger print, a bear’s claw print, our hands leave their traces as we move through the world. All of us, be we petty thief or frightened bear, leave our mark on the things we touch whether we mean to or not.
There are those people who are driven to leave a mark on the world, to leave some lasting legacy so they are not immediately forgotten. There are other people who prefer to go through life quietly, leaving few footprints, be they literal or carbon.
It is this idea that we leave a mark on the world that is central to these two stories. Whether we mean to or not, our passage through this world leaves traces of ourselves that linger on into the future. These traces may remain long after we cease to live in this world or perhaps like ski tracks in the snow, fade quickly after we pass by.
How shall we move through the world then? Thinking of the traces we leave to minimize our impact, or striving to leave a deep mark that future inhabitants will trace back to us? Neither approach feels right to me. Rather, if I had some say in this, I would rather my passage be a gentle ripple, a movement, a catalyst, that leaves little trace, but changes what it touches for the better.
As I think about this it probably isn’t the things we touch where we leave our deepest marks but the people we come in contact with. We are always touching others, physically, emotionally, intellectually, whether with our hands, our words or our gestures. These touches can contain an idea that may act like a seed and sprout, take root and grow within the person we’ve touched.
From the opposite perspective, we are constantly being touched by the world; people and things are leaving their imprints on us. Is it possible to discriminate and decide which of these will take root within us? Can we weed out those fingerprints that lead nowhere good and nurture those that we would prefer to see flourish? Can we in our words and actions plant seeds that we would wish to see bloom?
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