Are you making your mark or making a stain? I thought of this question as I walked our dogs, Captain and Icarus, through the woods behind our house today. Captain and Icarus aren’t big dogs – they are pugs after all – but when they get into those outdoor settings they are determined to let the whole world know that they have been there. They try to mark as many trees and bushes and plants as they can. I am astonished at the number of locations where those pugs can leave their scent. Sometimes they both choose to mark the same spot, but other times they decide on separate locations. It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other as long as what they do happens outside our house. When it happens inside, it is a mess that needs to be cleaned up. It is no longer making a mark but making a stain. And just so Captain is not offended, I need to clarify that Icarus is the one who occasionally makes the inside mistake.
Our wise neighbor Susan was walking by our house with her dog Fletcher awhile ago, and we got into a conversation comparing people with dogs. She was the one who put the idea into my head that some people make their mark in life while other people just end up making a stain. It might sound like a crass analogy, but isn’t it true that some folks (often men) just seem to spend their time trying to leave their scent on everything? In fact, now and again two men are like Captain and Icarus each trying to make their mark on the same spot. There is even a saying for that which I won’t share here.
How do you know if you are making your mark or just making a stain? I think that if you are making your mark you are not just leaving your smell on something, but that you are putting down a marker – much like the Inukshuk stone statues that the Inuits used to leave. This signpost you leave is not a statue to your accomplishment but is a pointer for others that helps provide guidance for them as they walk the way behind you. Your example gives them hope and encouragement in their own life’s journey. When you make a mark, it is a gift to the whole community. Making a stain, on the other hand, is a selfish act that provides nothing of value to anyone else. It is your way to say, “I was here,” but it does not offer hope or encouragement that benefits others. And when you make a stain, people either have to clean it up or try to avoid stepping in it because no one wants your smell on them.
Most of us have goals, dreams, and hopes for our lives. Most of us hope to be remembered after we are gone. But will we be remembered for making a mark or making a stain? You can learn a lot from walking two pugs on a November afternoon. There is wisdom everywhere, isn’t there?