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One of my favorite quotes from Natalie Goldberg comes from her book Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America:
Whether we know it or not, we transmit the presence of everyone we have every known, as though by being in each other’s presence we exchange our cells, pass on some of our life force, and then we go on carrying that other person in our body, not unlike springtime, when certain plants in fields we walk through attach their seeds in the form of small burrs to our socks, our pants, our caps, as if to say, ‘Go on, take us with you, carry us to root in another place.’ This is how we survive long after we are dead. This is why it is important who we become, because we pass it on.
This passage has given me comfort ever since I read it during the summer after I graduated from high school. My friend Angela had read the book and recommended it to me, and she told me, as good friends know how to do, that there would be a certain passage that would impact me and that I’d know it when I read it.
She was right. After high school Angela went to Reed College in Oregon and I ventured north to Fairhaven College in Bellingham, WA. I knew her message was a deep one about our parting ways for our respective higher education journeys. But this quote has also been significant for me throughout my life as I have navigated transitions, change, losses, and more losses. I think Angela knew something that I didn’t know yet; she had lost her own father in high school during her sophomore year and had discovered ways of comforting herself during difficult times.
When my father died in 2008, I felt Goldberg’s words again, and thought of the 15-year-old version of Angela who lost her father to cancer. How had she survived it at such a young age? Seventeen years later when my father died of cancer, I was hoping that I had accumulated enough of my father’s “burrs and seeds” to carry with me–enough to spread those kernels about to those who might need a little dose of Ed Putnam.
What I have been noticing is how much of his essence has already influenced so many people. Those burrs are being carried on the wool socks of those he encountered, loved, encouraged, and influenced. I love the image of gathering us all up — all of us who knew him — covered in burrs. What if a big wind blew just then. Imagine the blizzard of springtime seeds, not unlike cottonwood tree puffs, carried by the wind to root in new places. Imagine his influence then. Imagine how beautiful the sky would look filled with seeds.
Now imagine yourself, your legacy. Imagine your body as puffs of cotton blowing in the wind. Who do you hope to reach? Where would you like to take root? What would you like to become? Write for 10 minutes. Be that burr, that seed. What is your journey once you have passed on?