“Take only pictures; leave only footprints.” It’s a National Park mantra and humbling thought. Perhaps I can walk through a forest or up a mountain and leave only footprints. Any residue of my visit will be brushed away by the wind. The flora and fauna are indifferent to my passing. Leaving no footprints behind, I offer no nutrition, pose no threat.
That sense of insignificance that’s exhilarating in nature feels different in a city. Can I walk a city block or mile, and leave no impression? Use no resources but air, leave no imprint behind? That goes deeper than anonymity. Would I want to pass through life as a mere voyeur, a non-participant, leaving no trace of my existence?
Last week I walked the streets of San Francisco at varying times in varying roles. As a curious tourist. A business person, trying to get up the hills before my next appointment. An exhausted woman, wanting to get back to the hotel un-accosted. A caffeine-addict with plenty of time to tease the Starbucks barista about changing his name from the day before.
During those times, did I leave more than footprints? Did I take more than memories? I kind of hope so.
I also walked along Ocean Beach. The sand held evidence of quiet walks and frolics with kids and canines. I looked down at the intertwining footprints and imagined their stories. A dad taking a day off to play with his kids. A dog convincing his owner that life wasn’t so serious that there wasn’t time to throw a Frisbee on the beach.
We want to leave some sort of mark of our passing. Leaving footprints behind is part of our desire to touch and interact with others. We even want to look back and see the imprints in the sand, measuring our progress.
Writing about your stories and memories is part of the art of leaving footprints behind. Not transient imprints in the sand, but footprints that give witness to your journey.
Your Turn: Are You Leaving Footprints Behind?
Stories don’t have to be long to matter. As you travel through life, illuminate your footfalls, by telling your stories and memories. They lighten the journey for others—or at least offer entertainment along the way.