Causes and Monuments

Early one morning, while you’re in a coffee shop, a woman walks through the door, orders an Americano, and sits down at your table.  She sips ever so tentatively, while poring over a local newspaper. 

She turns to you and asks, “Do you know how I could leave my mark on this community?”

You’re not focused on leaving a mark, of course, because that’s a judgment for others, and beyond one’s control. 

Hers is not a question you’d reasonably be expected to answer, either, as a fitting reply depends on knowing not merely your community’s needs, but her character and abilities. 

And yet, she has asked the question, so you have already some insight into her character, haven’t you?  Her twelve words provide a first foundation for a reply. She wants to make a mark, a visible impression, one that would exist apart from her presence, as a handprint exists apart from one’s hand.

A single question of her will give you much more information.  So you ask, “Which do you think is more lasting, a building or a cause?” 

She looks around the shop, gazes nearly forever out the window, and then stares back at you.   Finally, she says, “People are fickle and their opinions change, but a building with a plaque could last for hundreds of years.  There are famous buildings in Europe that are thousands of years old.”

Now you know: she wants a monument, and she’ll not feel satisfied until she builds one.

You believe the opposite, that a cause matters more than a commemorative. 

And yet, and yet, she’s already decided what she believes, convinced as she is that what matters is being remembered with an imposing structure. You might try to dissuade her, but as she will undertake a private rather than a public project, you know that she’s using only her own time and money.

Taking a notecard and pencil, you write down the address on which she might erect a monument of her choosing.

“I’d say this is just the spot,” you tell her. She smiles and thanks you.  

You stand, look across the table in her direction, and take your leave by wishing her a good day. 

As you walk toward the door, she calls out to you, “Do you have a spot like this, too?”

Knowing that a cause may be boundless, as though a free visitor to every street and neighborhood, you reply, “Yes, I do.” 

Stepping through the shop’s door, with the city waiting beyond, you see the object of your concern, in every direction to which you might turn. 

Another day begins. 

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