Oldest had a projector set up in the dining room, shining across the table onto the drawn window shades. He had lit candles for dinner, a new small joy he’s brought into our lives recently, and their shadow—
“Look at the flames!”
“I know. That’s a heat signature. I learned about it on Doctor Who.” He started describing the episode.
I looked it up, and I’m not sure that’s exactly what we saw. However, the way my mind works, that’s okay. I learned something true.
First, the candles—their shadow showed something different. We could see their heat rising, rippling into the air. We saw how the flame took up more space—different space—as a shadow than it did as a flame. In your mind you can put flame and shadow together but you still don’t have the whole story.
Second—the idea of heat having a signature. Something that can be left behind, that identifies it's source, even. And of course, the physical side is only the beginning of it.
* * *
I’ve been thinking about what people leave behind. The better and longer you have known someone the more complex their signature. But a single sentence or look or gesture, left even by people who are maybe just passing through, can carve a signature deep into the soul, as well.
“I always used to watch your thighs jiggle in dance class.”
“We! Hate! You!”
“When I had young children I did not bring them to the grocery store.”
The once-overs that said, “What are you doing here?” and “I just wrote you off.”
“He thinks you do drugs. You’re always staring off into space.”
“Well we decided we were going to let God decide how many children we have.”
“Well. You should try harder.”
“You said our relationship could be about more than just joking around and you were right.”
“If you play as beautifully as you look I would love to hear you someday.” (This is especially powerful spoken by a famous violin teacher to a 13 year-old who does not feel beautiful.)
“You’re right. I made assumptions about who you were, and I shouldn’t have.”
“You matter, too.”
“We’re so proud of you.”
“You were scared? Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you were just really, really brave!”
“I feel like I can talk to you about this.”
* * *
It strikes me that we don’t always have control over the signature, what we leave or what we carry with us. That whether it is good or bad or confusing, it continues to burn. That we can’t be certain what kind of trail we’ve left behind us.
It also strikes me that the signatures that burn warmest come mostly from people who are still a part of my life. That my handwritten signature looks the way it does partly because of decisions I made about how I wanted it to look. That I've seen a few small strokes change the entire picture, and that a true artist is always looking for ways to improve her craft.
And if you think that you somehow don’t matter, that you are not constantly touching others, you simply have no idea.