We all want to leave a mark, to be remembered. Look at the number of people fighting to be heard;in the modern world, with digital communication, it is easier to get your voice out there, but for how many of these voices will the mark they leave just be a physical one, with all the other data stored in server rooms?
In a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” ‘Worth reading’ is not something I would associate with the majority of social media, with most posts forgotten, if they are ever read. But with that one ‘like’ we feel validated, and that we are leaving a mark, even when we know it is not lasting.
‘Doing something worth writing’ is even more forgotten, as people are too focussed on the first point. This is a problem that can be found everywhere, as even our politicians, who should be doing something, are too afraid of doing anything, even when it is the right thing to do, in case it loses them votes, their place in parliament, and therefore their job – because what else are they qualified to do (not that many of them seem to be qualified to run a country either)?
The ease of connection across the world means we try our hardest to leave a mark on someone who we will probably never meet. Even though human problems are often universal, and our words may encourage others, the process requires so much luck: in people managing to find our words, that they would be interested in what we have to say at that time and that they are not distracted by the next blog of cat gifs; it is like trying to harpoon a single fish in the ocean. We forget that behind us is a barrel, full of fish – family, friends, people we may meet – with whom we are able to connect daily, and leave our mark on them. In fact, these are people who want us to reach out and connect with them.
Time spent with friends and family, the things we give them, and they give to us, the memories we create and the advice we share, are all small marks that are left. A friend of mine recently told me to open up, and share what I have to say with the people around me, because they want to know what I have to say (I won’t be too self-indulgent here and share everything she said). This was something that has left a mark on me, and is something I will work on, and if it pushes me to say or do things that leave marks on others, then all of those marks will have a trace of her in as well, so our actions have wide reaching effects.
In what I am doing currently I can see so many opportunities for me to leave a mark; one of the main aims of the EVS programme is inter-cultural exchange, and sharing my culture with the community I am in, and getting to know the local culture. In my tasks I will affect people in different ways: I am teaching English; I will contribute to, and possibly organise my own, events and festivals; and working with local schools and organisations. By getting involved in the local community, meeting people and making friends, I will have the chance to leave my mark here. As well as the local community there are the other volunteers, both those I am with here and others across Croatia, with whom I am sharing this whole experience. This is not to say that there were not opportunities before to leave my mark, but there may have been times when I didn’t take them. In fact, in my work as an engineer I left many marks, physical ones on the landscape, but they were not the sort that I really want to leave.
I would like to draw your attention to a woman who appeared to be completely separated from the need to be remembered, Vivian Maier. Throughout her life she took over 100 000 photos.
She didn’t show these photos to anyone.
Maier’s photos came to light in 2007, when the contents of the locker where they were stored was auctioned due to a lack of payment, they were then dispersed. Since then her work has been brought to the attention of the world. Had her work not been recognised and brought into the public eye, or if it had been destroyed, or if she had never made it at all, there is no doubt that she would not have been heard of by a fraction of the people that know about her now. I’m sure many people would say that in this alternate reality I am imagining Vivian Maier wouldn’t have left a mark on the world, but I would argue that she did. For most of her life she worked as a nanny, and she left a big enough mark on the children she cared for that towards the end of her life, possibly after a period of homelessness, they bought her an apartment and paid her bills until she died.
However she managed to do it, she seemed to have been happy documenting the world without the need to receive acknowledgement from society for what she was doing. She was truly doing it for herself. But she was also marking the lives of others through her daily acts.
Going back to Franklin’s quote, I am going to disagree with it, I think he should have said “if you do not want to be forgotten within a century of your death, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” because for most people, no matter how ordinary their life, they will have left a mark on others, and will probably be remembered for a time, at least by their relatives and friends. But surely these are the people we should want to be remembered by? And really, shouldn’t we be aiming to be remembered in life, instead of in death? To do this we need to be out there, sharing life with others, this may be doing something worth writing about, but that should not be the goal. If being remembered after death is not our aim, then Franklin’s quote is wrong, or at least the wrong one for me to choose, as I now think that being remembered and leaving a mark are not the same.
To finish with another quote, one which is more about leaving a mark: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have a potential to turn a life around. It’s overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.” Leo Buscaglia.
This post was written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: Traces, which you can get involved with here. I understand that it parts argue against writing a blog at all, (a little ironic on a blog), but there are many reasons why people do blog, it is not just about ego and validation, though it does feel good having a positive reaction to something you create – personally I am not yet at Maier’s level of self-assurance.
I am also trying to make it easier for the person who deems my life worth writing about, giving them something to start with.