For some, life is a vast green pasture, for some a forest, and for some a jungle. But regardless of the terrain through which we pass, many feel the need to leave a trail to mark their passage, either so they can trace the path back to where they began or so that others may know the path they have taken.
Memories are the breadcrumbs of choice for most of those looking to retrace their steps along the way, but memories really don't hold up too well in the light of reality. They are much too easily warped by the passage of time. But since we tend to avoid staring into the light of reality just as we avoid staring directly into the sun, we seldom realize that what we're sure we remember clearly may not in actually be exactly what happened. Like pebbles tumbling against one another on the seashore, time wears away memory's sharp corners and fades the colors. As strongly as we believe something happened at a certain time in a certain place in the company of certain people or under certain circumstances, almost assuredly we are not 100 percent accurate.
Because I have never understood the world, and am so easily lost or led astray, I have been an inveterate breadcrumb-dropper all my life. But instead of relying totally on memories to mark my journey, I reinforce them with as many tangible bits and pieces of my past as possible, mostly in the form of my writings. Since words can last forever, I use them as my breadcrumbs. As a result, my trail through life is much easier to follow than most. I have an entire two-year period of my life, in fact—by way of letters written to my parents when I was in the Navy—documenting an almost day-by-day, as-it-happened accounting of events. I reference them frequently, and am invariably shocked to discover that several things I distinctly remember either did not happen, or did not happen when or in the order that I could swear they happened.
Memories are ephemeral, words are solid.
I always strongly encourage anyone with a desire to be remembered to drop tangible breadcrumbs as they travel through life. Even if they have no need to retrace their steps, it allows those they care about, and those who care about them, to see the exact path they took.
Photographs make fairly reliable breadcrumbs, but unless they are dated, even they can be misleading. When you take a photo, you know full well who is in them, their relationship to you, when and where it was taken, and under what circumstances. But unless you take a moment to caption them, 20 years down the line who else will know?
While few people think to do it, keeping a journal of what may seem uninteresting or even trivial to you can be a great asset a way down the trail. Taking brief notes on vacations and trips, saying what you did and, more importantly, your thoughts and feelings can, when you look them over in future years, sharpen memory and rekindle emotions—especially good ones.
I feel strongly about the need to leave breadcrumb showing our individual paths through life. If not for ourselves, then for those who come along a bit later and may want to know more about us and who we were. The more solid the breadcrumbs, the sharper the image we leave of ourself. Personal letters to friends or family, for example, are not only a part of who we are, they serve as a sort of time capsule for anyone who might come across them in the future.
What we take for granted, what is totally normal and may seem mundane or even boring—what is now—to us, will be viewed quite differently when seen from the perspective of the future.
We can never go back in time and leave breadcrumbs retrospectively. But it's never too late to start.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to check out his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and his book of collected blogs, Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1 ).