May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

On a recent visit to Teaneck, I noticed something unusual on the sidewalk. Many of the squares had a small oval stamped on them. Some had years on them, and some had the name of a construction firm. I’m not really sure why they did it, but I’m guessing it was to memorialize the work that was done in constructing the sidewalk initially and pouring the cement so well.

That’s not the first time I’d seen markings in cement, just the first time I’d seen it so professionally done. Often, when there is wet cement, people will scratch their name or initials in it. I have done it myself. It’s an alluring idea not because we want to vandalize anything, but because we like the idea of the long-term impact we’ll have. Fifty years from now, my initials might still be here on the sidewalk! Sure, the person seeing them might not know what the initials stand for, but they’ll know that someone was here before, and he changed the world at least a little bit.

This longing for a legacy, for a permanent place in this world, is natural. We still have a feeling that we should live forever, like Adam HaRishon was supposed to do. It’s in our DNA, so even if we can’t actually last forever, we try to find some way of continuing our existence.

As I looked at the sidewalks and contemplated their meaning in the deeper range of human emotion, I realized that there’s something much longer lasting than cement. There’s a way we can make a concrete difference in the world, effectively leaving our “Kilroy Was Here” mark on all we touch.

Instead of writing our names in cement, we can make an indelible impression on the people whose lives we touch. If we have an impact on someone so that our fingerprints are apparent in their character, then they become our virtual star on the Walk of Fame.

We all have people we remember from our youngest years, who taught us something we never forgot. We remember people who hurt us or made us feel bad. We have memories and the residual effects of the way other people scratched their initials in our lives, and those people live on in us.

The hope, of course, is that the message left behind will not only be indelible, but positive. No one wants to be the reason that someone grew up feeling frustrated with Judaism, yet there are many people who were just that person for youngsters who’ve grown up feeling disenfranchised.

How many people raised their children with negativity echoing in those pure innocent ears? Would they be surprised to see the mark they left on those children who grow up speaking badly of others? Shouldn’t they have known that young minds are more impressionable and longer lasting than a slab of wet cement?

Of course, there are people who set the right example for their children and everyone they meet. There are people about whom stories are told years later, relating their sensitivity, warmth or understanding. These people weren’t trying to make a legacy any more than the people who make a negative impression. In fact, they might not have realized they were making an impression at all. But they were.

We all do. All the time. When we interact with someone, we’re making a mark on their minds and hearts and though they might not remember it, it could still affect how they think or act. They might not realize they’ve been impacted but it doesn’t change the fact that they were.

We all want that eternal legacy; we all want to be remembered. That’s great, and it’s what we should be doing. The hard part is realizing that it’s not as simple as scratching our initials in wet cement. Sometimes the cement is too dry, and we can’t impress people the way we’d like. Sometimes the sign is on the wrong spot, so when we think we’re treading safely on solid ground, we’re actually making a mess of what had previously been smooth and trying to settle.

It’s not clear that we’ll be able to make our mark at a given moment, or avoid leaving an impact at another. That’s why it’s so important to be consistent in our behavior, constantly aware of the potential of long-lasting effects on others, and cognizant of the fact that like it or not, what we do at any time may leave a lasting impression on the world.

That’s what a person learned from a sidewalk; can you imagine what people can learn from a person?

Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world. You can find him at www.facebook.com/RabbiGewirtz and follow him on Twitter @RabbiJGewirtz.

By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

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