Making an Impression on the world ~ or why we can never be merely observers

Making an impression on the world ~ or why we can never be merely observers 

My most recent trip brought home to me in a number of ways how much of an impression we can make as individuals on the world and how easy it is to underestimate the impact our actions and inactions can have on others, even people whom we have had no direct contact with.

Coming through border control at Calais our coach was detained because while we had been parked up on a shopping trip illegal immigrants had climbed under the coach and were clinging to the underside of the vehicle. Now this was quite dramatic in itself but I’d rather pass swiftly on. The officials were marvellous and while we waited, they brought refreshments and reassurance to our group. I stood in the sunshine for a while talking with one officer and as I did so, a glint of metal caught my eye. On the ground by my feet was a small silver holy medal. I showed it to the officer and after some
discussion she told me to keep it as it might have been there for
months. It might well have been.

Some unknown person had dropped that little medal and had lost it forever. I have no way of ever finding the owner so I have kept it, as a reminder of our connection with those we never meet. A forensic
scientist would tell you that everywhere we go, we always leave a
tiny physical trace of ourselves: hair, skin cells, fibres from
clothing, fingerprints. We can never merely observe something, we always make some contribution, however tiny. This is also true of our non-physical actions. Each act we do, has consequences we will never see. Some are bad: the careless words that hurt the feelings of others, the distant issues of what we buy and where it is made, our car use and so on.  These are things that damage without us knowing we have caused harm;often simply by products of being alive and being human. The greater harms we cause in life, the hearts we break and the damage to the environment are often wrought through a mixture of ignorance and sheer blind selfishness.

But what about the good we do that we never know? How often do you find out later that your kind words have meant the world to someone who was thirsting to have some goodness and gentleness extended to them instead of harshness and cruelty? The things we teach our children need to include kindness and consideration for the feelings and well-being of others: we live in an increasingly me-focussed society where selflessness is seldom encountered and the dog-eat-dog model is followed ruthlessly.

It’s far from a perfect world. I’m far from perfect as a human being; some days I think I am a wretched specimen, falling so far from my aims. But aim high and while you might miss the stars you may still land on the moon, is a saying I sometimes think of. It’s not about being perfect but about trying the hardest to ensure that the harm you do is outweighed by the good.

Remembering that we are all connected, some say by only six degrees of connection, is a way of reminding yourself that you are never truly alone. The good you do will return to you, as will the harm. I’m not a believer in the full concept of Karma, but I do believe that somewhere along the line, we tend to get what we deserve.

Someone, somewhere in the world lost a small but obviously cherished medal. I cannot return it to them physically but what I can do is offer prayers for that unknown soul, wherever they are. And perhaps others elsewhere may be doing the same for me, remembering me as the person who helped them, however briefly, or simply as one of millions who have supported a cause like UNICEF, or as, I hope, a dear friend who has meant a lot to their life.

After all, Hope was the last thing left in Pandora’s box, and has been the finest of human allies ever since.

7 thoughts on “Making an Impression on the world ~ or why we can never be merely observers

  1. Your little medal is symbolic of so much. It reminds me of how on a recent walk my husband found a small button from early in this century and held on to it as a memento, then dropped it by mistake into the weeds at the side of the footpath. He was irrationally disturbed by this loss of something he had only just found. These small objects mysteriously connect us to other times and people, and then raise the spectres of the feelings that you describe so well here, Viv. I agree about trying to ensure that the good I do is greater than the harm, knowing that I will do both. Connected with this is having faith that those who may be perceived to do great harm will in themselves also carry an intention for and of good, and being able to offer tham that belief even when things are at their most unlikely.


  2. Today, I wanted an object to tell me its story. I bought some brass polish this afternoon so I could clean a necklace I found about 30 years ago in a parking lot. It’s an intricate design – complex braiding with connectors – that makes me think of India. I’ve never warn it as a necklace because it is heavy. It’s been used for hanging various objects. Most recently, it held a hanging glass bell jar that provided water for the birds.

    While taking off years of neglect with a toothbrush, the luster began to show through. I thought about the person who lost it: If only I could hand it to her and hear its story. It’s sitting here beside me, on my desk, shining in the light after its last bit of polish. Now I look forward to wearing it – after all these years. Each time I put it on, I will ask that she receive blessings. What lofty roles these objects play!


  3. Pingback: The Year in Review: highs, lows, triumphs and tragedies of 2011 « Zen and the art of tightrope walking

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