Jesus may have first said this, or Moses, or Aristotle, or Abraham Lincoln or my dad — I can't seem to find the origin, but the statement was "leave fingerprints behind when you leave the earth." It makes sense — we only pass this way once, so we should make sure our presence counts after we've left the scene.
During the last month, we've lost Sen. John McCain and singer Aretha Franklin. Both have left giant fingerprints we shall see for generations. But we don't have to be famous or heroic in order to leave fingerprints behind.
I am writing this on the first day of school for students all the way from kindergarten through the 12th grade, and from the first day of college all the way through a medical degree or a PhD.
There is probably no profession in all the affairs of manhood with greater potential for leaving lasting fingerprints than the teaching profession. And those fingerprints can't be seen on doorknobs or gun grips by detectives, they register on the hearts and minds of students.
What greater calling is there than teaching? I still have fingerprints left in my memory by teachers years ago. Ask anybody about his or her favorite teacher or teachers and all of them come up with a name or names without hesitation. Those fingerprints were made by teachers who loved what they were doing and cared deeply about their students. What a gift.
We have a next-door neighbor named Angie. Angie's fingerprint is a garden that is the beauty of our neighborhood. The flowers, the hedges, the bushes are all attended with love, care and hard work. They are beautiful.
When you see Angie out there snipping, trimming, watering, fertilizing and caring, you have to be in awe of the gardener and the garden. There is a plaque in her garden that reads, "To cultivate a garden is to walk with God." Watching Angie's loving devotion to this garden, you have to believe she is walking with God.
Years ago, we considered our neighbor Odie, an elderly gentleman. We don't use the term "elderly" in the same attitude anymore, but what was distinctive about Odie in his retirement was his restless energy and his generosity.
Odie was constantly planting and replanting, trimming, repainting, remodeling and updating his house and yard. And when there was nothing more to change on his side of the street, he would come across the street and cement a birdfeeder in our yard or add shutters to our house. After Odie passed away, his fingerprints remained on the house and yardwork where he lived, and on the houses and yards in the neighborhood and in the hearts of his neighbors.
We have another friend named Dick whose hobby is making bird houses. Not ordinary bird houses, but bird mansions. He made them out native wood, license plates, stones and all the other materials of man and nature. They were masterpieces. Some he gave away and some he sold. We have two and we are proud of them. Those extraordinary bird houses are Dick's fingerprints and will be displayed and cherished for generations. The birds who live in those lovely houses sing happier songs than the birds who live in shacks.
We needed a retaining wall years ago because of a crumbling dirt bank. We knew Hal and his son, David, who were skilled bricklayers. They knew just how to do it. Their talent not only stopped the erosion, their wall was simple and solid as well as beautiful and stylish. That wall has retained that bank for three to four generations and through 10 presidents. We don't own that wall anymore, but our family does. That wall is fingerprints of Hal and David that will outlive all of us.
We all have the ability to leave fingerprints behind whether they are left in history or in the hearts and memories of students, neighbors, friends, customers, our own children or grandchildren. What we are, what we do and what we stand for should not die when we do.