Of Footprints and Paths

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No, this isn’t a rehash of the famous Christian art work / poem “Footprints in the Sand.”

I was thinking more of how we go through life. Each of us leaves a mark – a trail of footprints – that show our course.

I think of Adolf Hitler. He left a clear trail of deep footprints, but those footprints led to a world in flames and deaths by the millions. Still, even today, many still follow in his crooked, but clear steps. The hatred he left in each tread still points legions towards venom and vitriol and violence. Many who follow in his steps would throw the world into the same chaos as Führer und Reichskanzler did these sixty, nearly seventy years gone.

I think of Marilyn Monroe. She left a trail of glamorous footprints that pointed straight down Hollywood Boulevard’s star-studded Walk of Fame. Her path seems a bright one, as many trails do in the early day’s sunshine, but by the end, night had fallen and her footprints fade into darkness and despair and self-destruction. Unfortunately, Southern California remains flush with the rosy cheeked, the lithely built, the blonde bombshells, who follow Norma Jean’s path. Many have already found the same end as she and many more still tread that uncertain path and who knows how many will yet fall to the same pitfalls that claimed her.

I think of all the celebrities. The famous. The infamous. Those that everyone knows from the movies to politics. The pop culture icons and the movers and shakers of the world. Each of them is blazing a path that will forever tempt others to come behind them and brave the perils of the path they pioneered in an attempt to reap the rare fruits of unqualified success.

I think of the footsteps I am following, stepping into as closely as I can to press the tread pattern down deeper and make it more lasting for those who, for whatever reason, would come behind me. I see my two Papas’ footprints ahead and I try to follow the path of gentleness and kindness and love for others that those two men laid out. I see Mrs. Peden’s faint footprints ahead and try to discern the path she left – the path of a second grade teacher who taught 50 years and three generations and loved my class – her last – as much as she loved her first class and all whom she loved as much as if we were her own.

The paths I follow were not blazed by great men and women as most would consider greatness. In their paths, though, I see something of greatness. I see the odd track of a Martin Luther, a Charles Lindberg, a Billy Graham, a score of others who laid out a path which some of those I follow, now follow. For the most part, those I choose to follow were common people – many teachers, several shopkeepers, a doctor, a county deputy, two coaches, a table full of curmudgeonly old men – who did not write their names large on the world’s canvas, but who tended their corner with diligence and care and love. Some never knew I was coming behind . . . some waited, took me by the hand, and led me a little ways on, personally.

Some leave greater marks than others, but, truthfully, the number of footprints is not nearly so important as the direction in which those footprints lead. Then, I think of us. We are the educators, the guardians of knowledge, the in loco parenti. What sort of path are we leaving? Where do our footsteps point? Who have we inspired to follow us? Who have we shown a clear path to follow? If not us, then someone reliable for a child, a tween, a young adult struggling with who they are and why they are here, to follow? I do not pretend to know all the mysteries of the universe. I have but vague hopes of what lies beyond the grave, but I do know our tracks live on after us, just as the fossilized footprints of the giant lizards that paleontologist treasure to find.

One thing I think most all of us, atheist, agnostic, or true believer alike, can agree on is that we are passing this way only once. We have only one chance to mark out our paths. Like it or not, as educators, parents, people, each of us has someone or some several someones following our footprints. Where are we leading them?

Love y’all, and make sure to wash the trail dust off your feet.

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2 responses »

  1. Great post.

    Interesting that you should mention Mrs. Peden. She was also my second grade teacher, and the first teacher I had when I moved to Gray Court.

  2. Wow. Simply wow. Excellent post, Shannon. One that makes me stop and think about the path I am walking. May our footprints show the compassion and dedication we have for those whose lives we touch and also lead in a direction that shows the betterment of our own little part of the world.

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