I go to school at Niagara University, which means that while I have one of the best views on campus of the Niagara Gorge from my 4th floor dorm room window, I also endure ridiculously cold winters with constant arctic winds screaming right off that very same gorge straight out of Canada. (And since Niagara is proudly 151 years old, and my dorm building has been around for most of that time, our heating system consists of a sometimes-working heater and a large sheet of plastic duct taped over our windows. Style.)
But right now, in mid-January, that’s only part of the story. See, now is the time when we have large amounts of very fast, very cold wind, and lots of snow to blow on our faces as well. It’s gearing up for a wonderful blizzard sometime in the near future right now, and I have the great privilege of walking around it in after sundown. I have a night class every Tuesday and Thursday for Poetry Writing, and I found myself cursing the gods above of wind on my way to St. Vincent’s Hall (affectionately known as Vini). Whether it be the win kicking the snow in my face, or my stupidity in not wearing a scarf…or a hat…or bringing my real winter jacket back from home was neither here nor there.
However, as I came across from the theatre wing, where I had exited my residence hall, to the stairs leading toward Vini, I saw a huge patch of snow blown across the stones that had not been walked on at all. Call it the artist in me, or simply the six-year-old girl, but I was determined right then that I had to walk across that snow, and leave my huge footprints in that completely untouched area.
I don’t know why the urge is so strong in human nature to want to leave our mark on something. It’s come to mind a lot in the past few hours for me, what with the passing of noted actor Heath Ledger (RIP), of what legacy we leave in the world. A few lines in a poem a friend of mine wrote stuck in my mind, and came to mind then as I looked at that snow: “I want to walk/On untouched land/Watching the virgin/Simplicity disappear/Stealing away its innocence/With every step I take/Leaving my imprint/In the ground behind me”. Even there, the innate urge is present. We want to do something, so that we can come back some time later (as I did after my class) to see those footprints, the only ones there, and say “Ah hah! Those are mine. That is me, and that is only me.”
As an actress, a singer, a writer, a poet, a little bit of everything, I feel that press a lot. I have to do ridiculous amounts of research for one character in my book, just to even out a tiny plot bump that may not even matter in the end anyway. But I have to do it, because I know that if I get this right, and I say the right words, maybe my book, MY characters, can reach out and touch someone else the same way they – and so many other characters written by other people – have touched me.
I don’t know if those footprints will still be there in the morning when I wake up to go to work. Maybe the wind will have blown all that snow somewhere else on campus; maybe more snow will have come and filled it all up. Who knows. But for right now, I know that I have made my print in that virgin snow, and that anyone that walked by it has seen it and thought, “Huh. I wonder who that was.” And even if they never know, and if I never know that they thought it…my legacy lives on, in that little mental snapshot of a winter night in New York.
So the next time you get that ridiculous urge to walk across a clean patch of snow, or jump in a pile of perfectly raked leaves or shoveled snow, or jump into a perfectly still pond…do it. You never know when your next chance may be.
What will your legacy be?