Last Thursday, I took a day off--not really a day off, since I worked in the evening, but a day off in the sense that I wasn't in the office all day, and I didn't do any "minister-y" stuff for the bulk of the day. Instead, I took a day to go off to the woods: to pray, meditate, and write; just me and my dog. Mack was a very well-behaved boy. (Don't tell anyone, but I let him off the leash for a little while when we were in the deepest part of the woods--he loved it! Ran around in the stream, chased squirells, and generally had a grand time getting dirty.)
When you walk in the woods, especially in a public park or forest, you see places where people have left their mark. The occasional piece of litter dots the trail, or some knucklehead has carved his initials into a tree trunk. But on this day, I found something that, in my writing/spiritual/seeking after knowledge mood, got me to thinking. It was a name tag--one of those blank "Hello my name is. . ." kinds of things, that had somehow lost its stickiness and come off the shirt of the person wearing it. I won't publish the person's name on it, but for now let's say her name was Jenny. I wondered to myself who Jenny was, and what had brought her (and her name tag) to this particular park. I surmised that she was probably a child (there were lots of kids at the park that day, on a school trip, no doubt), and that the name tag was there to help the teacher/room mother identify her easily. I wondered what wonders Jenny had seen on her day at the park--had she seen the flat, smooth stones that lay next to the stream, worn down over the years by the gentle flow of water? Had she pondered over the longevity of the trees around her, realizing in that moment that she was both part of something bigger than herself and yet insignificant in the grand scheme of all things?
As I looked at the name tag lying there on the wet ground, I pondered what lessons Jenny might have taken with her on her day at the park. And then it dawned on me. The names carved into trees would eventually become scars--still slightly readable, but soon a part of the bark they were torn out of. The litter (most of it anyway), and Jenny's name tag would all degrade away, leaving no trace of their original owners. Even Jenny and I, and all those who visited the park that day, would one day become food for trees and grasses like the ones at this park. In the end, I pondered, it's not the mark that we leave on the forest, but the mark that the forest leaves on us, that matters most.