On a blistering hot Friday afternoon, I looked down to see my son’s size 13 footprints in the soft dirt as we made our way around the university campus. We trudged around the perimeter of the largest central campus in the nation on this incredibly steamy afternoon. We were completing the typical prospective student tour, but it was much larger than that. We were in search of his future—a grand journey, indeed! Well, maybe he did not see it that way exactly, but I could perceive his growing anticipation in his posture. With each step, he was picturing himself here. As I gazed back at the sculptured dirt, I couldn’t help but contemplate what footprint he might leave with this place and what imprint it might also leave on him.
Footprints are powerful marks of identity. Almost as unique and identifying as our fingerprints, they clearly state our presence. “He’s been here,” my son’s footprints echoed in the dirt. But as easily as they are left in the pliable dirt, footprints are just as easily erased. My footprints had once marked this place as well. Not too many years ago, I, too, envisioned leaving my mark not only here, but on the world. I understand his anticipation. Youth allows that fearless, “I can do anything” voice in your head to take full stage. It is a persistent voice that drives us to believe in ourselves and charge ahead despite our hesitations and fears.
The wind blew slightly and I remembered my first walk around the campus as a prospective student. I, too, had been full of dreams and purpose. The leaves whispered reminders of those days. Memories came flooding back to me. I could see my roommate frantically rushing to the Architecture Building to turn in a late but fabulous project. I stood under the arches of the Quad and remembered how many times I waited for my boyfriend to meet me there. I saw a shadow of my younger self leave the campus newspaper office in the wee hours of the morning and make my way back to my dorm through a silent, spooky campus. I remembered the faces, the fears, and the triumphs of my college experience, and shuddered briefly in the intensity of the memories.
Caught up in my own thoughts, I caught my son eyeing one of the engineering buildings with a quizzical expression. I guess he was pondering his destiny at that moment as well. Just as suddenly, I looked down at the university sidewalk I traveled years ago and looked up to analyze my son’s expression one more time. I noticed that the sun had shifted and I stood in my tall, handsome son’s shadow…almost like his presence truly overshadowed mine.
While this place certainly left an imprint on my soul, I have found my larger place in the world. In the most vulnerable time of my life when I was bursting with questions, this place treated me gently and helped me find the answers. I pray it does the same for my son. I hope he learns the value of great friendships, the spirit of cooperation, the self-satisfaction of a job well done, and becomes completely comfortable with who he is and wants to become. I am willing to let his larger footprints replace mine as he finds his place here. After all, he is my very tangible imprint on this world. It is time for him to embark on his own journey. Honestly, I would not have it any other way.