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Leaving Footprints

Leaving Footprints Cover Image

John R York

September 21, 2023

Our Footprints

You’ve probably heard the metaphor, “life is a journey”, followed by one of many optional afterthoughts: “not a destination”, “with many paths”, “enjoy the ride”, and so on. I often reflect on my own journey as a means of measuring my progress. Now that I’m approaching the three-quarters of a century mark, I can tell you that I’ve racked up many miles during my journey with many stops along the way. There is much to think about.

If you walk along the beach, right up close to the surf’s edge, you can see your footprints in the sand quite plainly. I recently took a trip with Paula to Orange Beach in Alabama. (Yes - Although we live on the west coast of Florida, we went all the way to Alabama to visit the beach – just part of the journey.) I walked along the beach each morning, and, when I turned around to go back the way I came, I noticed my footprints became more and more obscure. By the time I’d returned to the place where I began, the footprints were gone. I’m telling you this little anecdote because that casual observation is what got me thinking of the metaphorical footprints that result along the journey of our lives.

I recently received an email from a friend who had been one of my business partners some years ago. He’s 40 years younger than me. His email was a lengthy expression of gratitude for helping him to become the successful executive that he is today. I was overcome with emotion after reading it. It wasn’t just the words themselves, but the fact that he took the time to sit down and let me know that my time with him made a difference – in this case, a positive difference.

Paula taught high school art for 41 years. She once showed me a scrapbook of letters from her students, often many years after they’d graduated from high school, thanking her and acknowledging the positive influence and impact she had on their lives. That gives me a lump in my throat just recalling some of those expressions of genuine gratitude.

I recently helped make dinner for the kids who live at the RAP House here in our community, a runaway alternatives program for youth at risk. This Cook 4 Kids program is something that we do through our Rotary club. When you do something like this, you really get an increased awareness of how small gestures can touch the lives of others. Of course, there's no way to know if making supper for those kids will actually change their lives, but our paths crossed. Their footprints are still at the beginning of their journey, and I believe that small interactions can make a difference.

Those are some examples of those footprints that we leave behind as we trudge along on our lifelong journey. However, not all of our footprints are positive. I know that I’ve disappointed and hurt a few people along my way, and I regret those lapses. I guess what I want to point out is that everything we do, all those choices we make every day, represent a specific path on the journey. All of those choices have consequences, not only to ourselves, but to those around us – family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, even strangers.

It's kind of like the butterfly effect, the idea that small, even trivial events may ultimately result in much larger consequences. Our behavior, our choices, might be something as simple as a friendly smile, a thank you, helping someone in need, or avoiding an argument. Simple things might change somebody’s life in ways difficult to predict. Although these footprints are the ones that disappear quickly in the sand, you were probably making an impact. You were there at that time and in that place. (I know – it's pretty heavy.)

I guess when you get older, you think about stuff like this. Here’s an example: when we were kids, my mother used to make us older siblings play with our youngest brother. We weren’t very enthusiastic about this directive because he was just too young to join in our play. But we came up with an arrangement that technically followed Mother’s instructions but limited little brother’s annoyance factor. In those days, we all had animal characters that we used when playing – Joan Puppy, Miss Kitty, and Freddy Frog. We told our little brother that his character was “the Worm” and that worms couldn’t talk or do anything other than lay on the floor nearby. Surprisingly, he seemed to accept the role and everybody was happy. Decades later, my now-adult little brother is a man of very few words, which Mother blames on us. 


I think it goes without saying that pets play a huge role in the lives of most of us. Americans spent $136.8 billion on their pets in 2022. I mean, that’s a LOT of money. If you have a pet dog or cat, you probably think of them as part of the family. I suppose pet rats, rabbits, snakes, and hamsters - probably less so.

Paula had two pet donkeys, Elvis and Jerry Lee, when we lived on our ranch in California. In fact, she attempted to make a pet of just about everything on the ranch, including horses, cows (especially baby calves), pigs (when they were little), and anything she found in need of help, such as birds and ‘bunnies’. But I digress.

According to PAWS, when an animal is kept as a companion, it’s considered a pet. These companions definitely leave their paw prints on our lives. Paula and I have had five Doberman Pinschers since we’ve been together. They brought great joy to our lives - and sometimes great frustration and annoyance. But that’s part of the deal, as with any family member. When they passed away, we mourned.

I have a friend whose black Labrador Retriever is featured on his financial management services website as “Chief Carter Cox: FUR-nancial Advisor and Chief Operating PAW-fficer” and he’s even got a bio. He is the official greeter at the office. I have other friends in our Rotary club who bring their little dogs with them to the meetings in baby buggies. . Paula and I would occasionally dress our dogs in costumes, poor things. These behaviors demonstrate our affection for our pets. I suppose a psychiatrist might call it anthropomorphism, but that makes it all sound so weird.

Of course, not everyone likes dogs and cats. Some dog people often don’t care for cats, and visa versa. Some people are annoyed when a dog trots up to them and begins sniffing in sensitive areas or nuzzling and licking them. Some people believe dogs are dirty and should be left outside. There are even people who have cynophobia: a fear of dogs. I remember being very afraid of my grandma’s chihuahua, Crystal. Damn thing was meaner than a snake!

We have a cat named Rocky. He’s a Bengal, a hybrid of the Asian leopard cat and a domestic cat. I was never much of a cat person myself, but Paula brought one home one day and we had a whole string of felines after that. Unfortunately, cats didn’t last long on the ranch because the local coyotes were quite fond of them. Rocky managed to survive, probably because, like my grandma's dog, he’s also meaner than a snake. Paula and Rocky currently have a love-hate relationship and they often tangle in bouts of feline insanity, definitely leaving paw prints and teeth prints in her life.

My first dog was a beagle named Weezer. I’ve had several dogs over my life and I remember each one of them. They all definitely left their paw prints on me. In this month’s My Blog picture, Rayne, Pepper Potts, and Rocky are hogging up the couch at our California ranch (we have to sit on the floor). Rayne and Pepper are gone now, leaving us with just the ornery cat.

In Conclusion

As we journey through our lives, we leave our footprints, just as others who connect with us along the way leave theirs. I think it’s a good idea to leave as many ‘good’ footprints as possible. Think of this practice as good karma.