Jo Seaman, Heritage Manager
No matter who we are or how long we are lucky to be on this beautiful, flawed, fascinating, cruel world, we will leave a mark.
My feet will wear down our front door step, even just slightly, a millimetre at most, but I have become part of the story of that threshold, maybe just another passing shadow, but I and it are now linked.
But the physical impact is just a fraction of that story. What about the countless times I walked in to the house to the sounds of families and laughter, to disputes and turmoil, mischief and mayhem and sometimes, to lonely silence. If someone were to visit this spot after I have gone, my mark will be there, worn on the fabric, but what of the other? All those emotions, actions, interactions, relationships? My feet left a physical impact, but what made me an individual, unique, thinking, feeling human being; can that ever be recovered? Can the story of me really be told? Or is all I leave behind just the casual vandalism of my feet on part of a structure that was built long before I was born and will, in all likelihood be standing long after I am gone?
Obviously I hope that my impact on this world will be more than just a slightly more worn piece of liminal wood. In all likelihood, I will leave plenty more marks, digital traces, photos, letters, family memories, stories told to grandchildren, an obscure heirloom or two. But one day, let’s face it, the memory of me will fade to just an obscure footnote, perhaps a story recounted over a drink or two (“No-one can believe he really drank a dead man’s pint.”) changing over time until it no longer holds an ounce of my essence. Then, perhaps, all that will be left of me will be that physical mark, just a trace fossil of a life long forgotten.
But that is too tragic. Whoever we are and whatever we do, we lived! Shout that out! Be proud of it. So far as we know, out of the thirty billion or so planets in our galaxy, there is only and will be only, one ‘you’. You really are pretty damn special.
But what of the estimated 107 billion Homo sapiens that have lived on this pale blue dot over the last 50000 years or so? They too, we can assume, were pretty special, unique certainly with a story worth remembering and one deserving to be told. One thing that connects them to you, or me, is that they too left a mark. Somewhere, somehow, they interacted with the physical world and affected it. Perhaps like me their clumsy size 11’s abraded layers of molecules from the fabric of a building or maybe they lost one of their possessions in a muddy field or roadside ditch? Or was this ghost ‘you’ making their mark more deliberately, scratching a name on a stone wall or dropping a painful memory, made tangible in a photograph, down between the gap in the floorboards?
This ‘stuff’, these marks have for many, many years been recovered, recorded and studied. But sometimes I fear, we see them just as they appear to be, physical evidence of people from the past. Interactions of our ancestors with the world around them, objects of identity, culture, love and death. We are not always able, often due to time or financial constraints and the restrictions of specialisms and professional interest to look beyond the physical and explore the less tangible. We sometimes fear to go beyond the history and into the more subtle and less recoverable world of the personal story. But that is exactly what we are trying to do, albeit on a local and not a global scale. We are only a small service after all.
With you, we want to explore the everyday, the mundane, the stupid, the hilarious and the terrible, in essence, that which makes us human. And our starting point for all of this will be that mark carved in stone, that object in a ditch, that discarded memory and perhaps even, that worn doorstep.
Join us on this journey, it won’t always be easy. Indeed sometimes we will reach a dead end, that moment when the story drifts from memory and is lost, but sometimes, just sometimes, we will find a connection that makes us realise just how incredibly special we are and have always been.
With thanks to Carl Sagan and Robert Macfarlane for inspiration and the occasional butchered quote.