Friday, January 13, 2012

Leaving Marks

Just lately I've been thinking a lot about our society's fixation with making marks. We mark our homes. We mark our bodies. We mark our relationships. We seem to be preoccupied with being seen. Why is that? And not all of us feel like that. Some of us try desperately to not be seen or to simply blend in. Notoriety or anonimity. We seem to crave them both, and sometimes in the same day.

It's a recurring theme for me, especially when I feel as though I'm not really getting anywhere I want to be in this life. And fortunately for me, there is always plenty of direction available to remind me that I don't have to always be stressing about making my mark in the world. Recently I found this in a talk by President Howard W. Hunter from a 1982 General Conference address titled, "True Greatness."

"True greatness is never a result of a chance occurrence or a one-time effort or achievement. It requires the development of character. It requires a multitude of correct decisions for the everyday choices between good and evil that Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke about when he said, “Over the years these little choices will be bundled together and show clearly what we value.” (Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 21.) Those choices will also show clearly what we are.
As we evaluate our lives, it is important that we look, not only at ouraccomplishments, but also at the conditions under which we have labored. We are all different and unique individuals; we have each had different starting points in the race of life; we each have a unique mixture of talents and skills; we each have our own set of challenges and constraints to contend with. Therefore, our judgment of ourselves and our achievements should not merely include the size or magnitude and number of our accomplishments; it should also include the conditions that have existed and the effect that our efforts have had on others.
It is this last aspect of our self-evaluation—the effect of our lives on the lives of others—that will help us understand why some of the common, ordinary work of life should be valued so highly. Frequently it is the commonplace tasks that have the greatest positive effect on the lives of others, as compared with the things that the world so often relates to greatness."

I get frustrated sometimes trying to fit in time to accomplish things. But too often those accomplishments are not the little things that will matter in the grand eternal scheme. It's tricky balancing those small important things with the visible things that make me feel like I'm not a waste of space. It's the reason why I get a little down if I haven't been able to produce some pottery in a while or weeks have gone by without me fitting in time to exercise and eat responsibly. I'm hard wired for visible progress and achievement and it's desperately hard for me to break that conditioning. I have to ask myself repeatedly if I'm making the best choices in how I use my time and hope that I'm gradually improving my judgement skills. Because I still need to see that I'm doing okay from time to time. Maybe some day I won't, but for now it's part of who I am. 
It's funny, but every time I finish a piece of pottery and trim it before bisque firing I ask myself if it's going to be good enough. Then I scratch my initials into the base in a way that hopefully no one else does so it can be differentiated from everyone else's work. A lot of times I'm not sure I should put my mark on it and I break the piece up for reclaiming before its existence is more permanent. It's one of the things I love most about pottery - the ability to take things back if you recognize their flaws before they're fired. I wish my other choices in life could be corrected so easily. But then the trick is in the recognition at that crucial stage, isn't it?  And that's really the case with any mistakes we make in life...changing our minds before it's too late. 
With a new year I feel a stronger inclination to pause long enough to make that judgement call when I'm choosing. I don't know how long it will last, but I always hope that this year will be the one when I finally figure out how to make my mark in the right way.

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