We leave fingerprints on people’s lives. I didn’t come up with that. I would say Sierra did, but when I really think about it, she probably didn’t either. Someone said it to her. It affected her. It left a mark. She shared it. The mark stuck on me, as well.
Then there was Chris, the disenchanted waiter. He affected me in the strangest way, completely accidentally. This must have been… 1994? I was a teen. I remember him very clearly, every toss of his hair embodied drama in action. If he didn’t have a fantastic story full of adventures to complain about, he would he sit in our booth (this was Denny’s), light up a cigarette, and loudly complain about his customers at the table nearby, within earshot. He once brought my friend the wrong order, and when he spoke up, Chris said, “Well, the sign does say Denny’s” and walked away. He did not fix the order, ever.
We loved him so much. He got all of our allowances in tips. He lived in the office, and the manager wouldn’t fire him because customers drove across the city to see him, and we would riot if he couldn’t get to work due to a lack of ability to get to work or like, not having a bed and stuff.
Anyway, once upon a dark and dreary long night of the soul, I was feeling fairly forgotten in a city far away from my friends and home, and Chris popped into my head and I laughed. My heart warmed with joy at the antics of that asshat, and I knew I would never forget him until the day I died. Then I realized I had no way to tell him that. Then I realized how shitty his life was at that time. It likely means he took a while to recover, and he probably at times became so close to broken or, well… probably even might have broken and maybe he needed to hear something like some random person far away would never forget him, he would always bring them joy, no matter how many mistakes he made. I was sad I couldn’t tell him.
Then, the weirdest thing happened. I wondered if anyone ever thought that way about me. Grocery cart races popped into my head. And the thing with the prom dresses, the prank with the foaming candy, that time they didn’t tell me a crowd was gathering to hear my spontaneous song. I could go on, and have actually been invited to a few parties because of my ability to do so. I’m just saying, that dark period of my life wasn’t the only period of life that I’ve had, and that night I realized a few things may have happened that probably make me actually a bit rather hard to forget. In the way of good things, with laughter, and song. I’ve probably left fingerprints.
It happens digitally, too. It’s easy to dismiss internet culture as not “real”, even telling people to “touch grass” indicating we need to focus on “what’s real” over “what’s not”, but that’s not really what’s happening, is it? Yes, the internet is manipulating us heavily, in ways that exaggerate or completely misrepresent reality, if we aren’t careful. But also, passing conversations from the days when forums were still popular are still with me. People who were just a picture with a user name of nonsense next to them really were people, they really did give me advice, comfort, laughter, a feeling of community.
We leave fingerprints. We can use that. We might even be able to smudge the world into the shape we want it to be.
I am at a phase of my life where my role is changing. My life was rough, but I had guidance. Yes, therapists. Yes, a few key people who were kind enough to step in and fill a role other adults in my life wouldn’t. Not just them, though. Some people weren’t even talking directly to me. Sometimes I was confused, or lost, and I overheard a conversation somewhere. The journal I started keeping, I got the idea when I realized a couple of those people had a journal on them that they would pull out, something they could rely on when they needed to present a logical argument. News clippings often backed up passages where they wrote down their thoughts, and then they shared those thoughts with people in their community.
Only a handful of those people have come into my life, and I remember them still. I think of them when I see activists online, getting weary. I remember I sent one a personal message letting her know that even though my interactions with her were nothing but likes, her words were being remembered. I’m glad I did that, because soon after she became targeted by unfair harassment, I hope I helped. As I mentioned, I feel my role is changing, like instead of maybe sucking up all that healing they were throwing my way, maybe now I can start doing what I can to turn some of that support outward, because I see a lot of tired people, and when I say things like “I want to show people how to see the world a better way”, I get replies saying it’s just not worth the effort.
I think maybe we as a species need feedback. We are social creatures. But the work of trying to reach out to others, you can’t always see the results right away. You might not personally see the results of what you have done at all. Those results might be kept secret, locked in the memories of people who will carry you with them forever, sometimes without knowing your name. I know this, because I have those secrets. I’ve spoken to people who have those secrets. It happens. It’s a part of human life. Don’t give up. We all leave fingerprints.