Recently, the father-in-law of my boss passed away. I have never met the man. In fact, because of Covid, I have yet to meet my boss. In expressing my condolences, I asked how I could honor his legacy. I was thinking along the lines of a donation to his favorite charity, but instead my boss requested that I mention him in a blog post. Both my boss and his wife read my blogs. I am honored to do so.
We need to be thankful for people like Mr. McNees. We all have them in our lives, we may never meet them, nor know their names. Unless we are intentional in our thought process, we will not even recognize their presence. The Mr. McNees of the world exist in the lives of the people we admire, follow, and respect. Their love imparts grace and dignity; their influence shapes the life and journey of those around us.
I have previously discussed Robert Hastings’ great essay, The Station, written in 1981, and its powerful message to focus on the journey and not the destination. But the journey is not just a “commute” to get from point A to point B, but rather as a ‘road trip’ that involves exploration, detours, and the enjoyment of God’s creation. For Mr. McNees, his journey was centered on a faith-filled family and his road trip included appreciating the Colorado Rockies. We must also be aware that our journey will impact the passengers we encounter and vice versa.
The impact we leave in the lives of others can be compared to the wake behind a boat. The wake is a result of water being displaced or moved. Individuals are also leaving a wake that can impact those around them in a powerful way. We don’t necessarily need to see the boat to feel the effect of its wake, which can last long after it passes.
When we strive to make memories and create a legacy, the impact is never lost. A legacy will directly live on with family and friends, which then impacts their circle of influence, which can impact that circle, and so on. I believe that my dad’s wake will one day impact my grandchildren and even their children, even though they will have never met him. As individuals, our actions alone cannot directly change an entire world. But by inspiring others and creating an authentic ripple effect, that influence can make large-scale change. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
This concept of leaving an imprint is the opposite of the hiking mantra, ‘leave no trace.’ On this journey we should be leaving metaphorical footprints, although not trash or waste.
“Life is like a field of newly fallen snow; where I choose to walk, every step will show.”- Anonymous
In reflecting on this blog, I discovered the nuance of a metaphorical footprint versus a fingerprint in our impact of the world. A footprint is immediately visible to other people, like steps along the beach or dirt on a recently cleaned floor. Sometimes footprints are marks one never meant to leave but clearly indicate the presence of where we stood. These footprints could be reflected in hurt feelings or seen on the backs of others while we climb the ladder of success. On the other hand, fingerprints aren’t as easily visible but still lead back to us. Fingerprints can be more deliberate and artful. They can indicate where we reached out, what we touched or handled; in addition to who has influenced us.
I have reflected on whose fingerprints are all over me. Clearly there are those from my mom, dad, wife, coaches, and mentors, but there are also fingerprints of my daughters, friends, and colleagues. Plus, I reflect on where I left my fingerprints. Where my words or actions have left an imprint – good or bad.
With the recent passing of Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, I have revisited his works. He said that our signature is everywhere; and with every thought we produce, anything we say, any action we do, it bears our signature. That signature gets handed done and impacts the signature of others. Nelson Mandela noted: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.”
One of my favorite singer songwriters, Harry Chapin, was an artist who intentionally used his platform to leave fingerprints. He was an active and dedicated humanitarian. Inscribed on his headstone are words taken from his 1978 song, “I Wonder What Would Happen to This World”:
Oh, if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man’s life could be worth
I wonder what would happen to this world
Christians are called the ‘salt of the earth’ because our lives enhance and give meaning to this world. It is an odd analogy, but Jesus compared believers to salt for a reason. Salt is a dietary mineral, used for flavoring and preservation – it enhances our food. All known living creatures also need it to regulate the water content in the body. To not have salt in our diet would be detrimental. On the other hand, too much salt can be harmful. Like salt, Christians need to enhance and balance the world around us. Christianity’s fingerprints are in our community on churches, schools, orphanages, hospitals, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other facilities that touch millions of lives daily.
We need to lead lives that have love and faithfulness in its wake. We need fingerprints that exhibit integrity amid temptation, kindness in response to rudeness, and forgiveness in return for harm. The Christian life is both caught and taught. We need good solid teaching and teachers, but we also need to be mentors who will model the Christian life. Saint Paul told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1) and in Matthew 5:16 “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
We walk our walk as a witness to our Lord and Savior. We make it a genuine walk that shares God’s love. That is what we are tasked to do. Mr. McNees left his fingerprints on those around him, his wake has reached me and impacted my life. What legacy and signature will we leave?