My Teva sandals have a distinctive tread on their soles and
when the summer sun softens the tar patches along the lane the little kid in me
can't resist pressing my foot's pattern into them. Then, next day, I look to
see if my footprints are still discernible. They almost never are of course. By
the time the sun has left the lane and the tar has cooled, they have long since
been obliterated by tyre tracks.
Yesterday, though, I found one. The boots of those few
others who had passed that way had missed it and, since it was near the centre
of the lane, so had the vehicles. I felt strangely pleased.
I detest graffiti. Yet in a way I understand the impulse to
leave a mark. So would I step in wet cement? No I wouldn't, out of
consideration for others and because I would feel terribly guilty afterwards,
just as I did when I was thirteen and carved my name on a beech tree. But I
would think about it. I would imagine
doing it. The temptation would be there to make a mark and then come back later
to look at it as it set into that which, in this world, passes for permanence.
What is it about us humans that makes us so keen to leave
our mark? Is it the ego's denial of mortality that urges us to create something
that will outlive us even though we know that whatever it is will, like the
statue of Ozymandias, eventually follow us along the path to oblivion? Nothing
is eternal. Permanence is an illusion. Everything changes in every instant. The
quantum universe is nothing but a vast, restless dance of energy and we and all
our works blink in and out of existence like fireflies in the dark of
I know that. I know that in another decade or two (or less probably)
I shall be gone. Oh I shall live on a bit longer in the memories of those who
knew me, particularly those who loved me. The books I have published will
remain in print a few years maybe, and some of my traces in cyberspace might even
persist till after I am dust. But as that which constitutes this separate me
dissolves back into the All-That-Is, it will soon become just a faint outline,
like yesterday's tar footprint, and eventually it will be as gone as a cup of
seawater tipped back into the ocean.
Since some of my books were written with a helpful purpose,
I hope they will remain a while. But apart from that, does any of this really
bother me? Well, not so much, any more. I think I am learning at last the
futility of trying to make a permanent home out of today's evanescent reality. And
here is where I think I differ from the kid with the spray can who scribbles
his tag on the wall and scuttles away. Because for me, as well as the tactile
pleasure of a sandal pressed into soft tar, it is not so much about longing for
permanence as it is about coming back and looking again. It is about wondering
what will be different tomorrow. It is about noticing and being fascinated by— and
yes honouring—the inevitable process
of constant change and unpredictability that lies at the quantum core of
everything. Even if the looking makes me sad.
Here's a sonnet I wrote thirteen years ago that seems to fit well...