Every single one of us was born with an innate desire to leave a mark on the world. Like footprints stamped in concrete or initials carved into trees, we need a way of saying to the world, “I was here.”
But what do those things tell us about the person who left them behind? Very little, actually.
The other night, I watched Lincoln for the first time and I couldn’t help wondering, as Daniel Day-Lewis filled the screen, “Is that what Lincoln was really like?” How much of that story was fiction and how much was fact? I’m willing to bet the director made most of it up. Why?
Because as famous as Abraham Lincoln was, we have no way of truly knowing him. We have the written accounts of what he said or how others perceived him, but while that gives us a glimpse into his life, it doesn’t tell us the heart and soul of him. It doesn’t tell us who Abraham Lincoln really was.
Here’s my rather morbid confession: I. Love. Graveyards.
I love wandering through them in my spare time and considering each headstone—the final mark each person left on the world. It doesn’t tell us much. Just a name and two dates. Just a single slab a granite that says, “Yes, I was here.”
But when I walk through cemeteries, I ask other questions. What did this person look like? What were her dreams? And did she ever succeed in bringing those dreams to life? To me, each headstone marks a story known only to those who knew the person and knew them well.
And I realize that in the grand scope of things—when you consider how many others have lived and died and given their all in this world—you and I will only touch a mere handful of lives. That may sound frightfully discouraging until you realize one, important fact.
It’s not about the number of people we touch, but how deeply we touch them.
I think sometimes we’re so concerned with trying to touch the whole world that we run frantically about, brushing elbows with hundreds of strangers. “There,” we think. “Now I’ve touched them.” But if we want to be truthful, we must realize that those people at the supermarket are going to forget our faces the moment we pass from view.
You have been given a precious few lives to impact on this earth. And if you do it right, they will carry your legacy on to future generations. And maybe somewhere along the line they will have forgotten your name and face, but someone will know your heartbeat. And perhaps long after you’re gone, someone else will have a heart that beats to that same rhythm.
And you will have touched the world, my friend.
That heartbeat is your gift to the world.