“Instill the love of you into all the world, for a good character is what is remembered.” Parable 24, The Teaching for Merikare.
“The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.” Sonnet, Michelangelo Buonarroti
Every time we leave the house we return a different person. Every encounter we have with another changes us. Infants born into the world arrive with a specific DNA, never to change and upon which the character they will become is only tempered and nudged by experience. Like a block of clay they arrive, specific in color and texture, but subject to the fingerprints and tool marks left by every encounter they have with another and every experience they survive. Such is life.
It is easy to look back and recall experiences we think most greatly influenced our character. Usually, we are wrong. It is not the seminal moments, the major events in our lives, but the repeated subtle interactions with people we subconsciously catch ourselves admiring. The slashes and gouges we endure in our clay mold are ultimately not as important as the fingerprints left by those who show us compassion and genuine kindness. It is this nurturing, gentle kindness that we should aspire to impart on others. As it is impossible to walk the beach without leaving footprints, so too, is it impossible to live in the world without leaving our fingerprints on the clay character of others.
I think of these ideas today as I reflect on the life of one who left the fingerprints of kindness, friendship and all that is honest and noble in the world upon me. Growing up in Rhode Island, my best friend’s parents infused in me, over many years and confirmed through a variety of life events (both wondrous and horrible), the strength of character I hope to achieve.
Consider the entire spectrum of characters you have encountered in your life. Now, select from that vast population only the people who have exhibited nothing but kindness, honesty and compassion. It is a finite few. This select group of individuals has, at some point in your life, stopped you, caught you breathless and amazed at their reaction to a situation seemingly beyond your limits of altruism or empathy. These are the giants in your life whose strengths of character have left the deepest fingerprints in your clay. So it is for me with Bob Michaud, Eric Fisher and my best friend’s father, Mr. Nash.
Many years out from Cub Scouts, Little League, blizzards and high school, I still count Mr. Nash as one of the giants in my life. A man whose quiet consistency belied an inner strength, whose friendship and encouragement spoke to a fierce sense of fairness, whose work-life balance set the gold standard for me to strive toward. It is not my goal to achieve these standards, but rather to continue to work toward them. Consistent effort marks the man. Our clay never hardens.
Appreciate these giants in your life. Treasure their fingerprints.