We Are Here.

In Hawaii, there are places you can hike to find the stone markings of pre-European contact kanaka maoli (native peoples) called “petroglyphs.” The engravings are typically pictures of men and women of various classes along with children, animals, canoes and/or tools, and they are carved into soft lava rock.

I took this photo yesterday using my camera’s zoom feature at a place called Pu’u Kilea, which is a volcanic cinder cone in the Olowalu Valley of West Maui. Historians estimate that the images were carved about 300 years ago. It was the ancient way of recording one’s experiences in brief, for public display and for posterity.

You might say they were the bloggers of the ancient world.

Or maybe it’s we who carve stories into the “stone” of the internet.

Either way you look at it, there seems to be a basic need among humans throughout history to make their stories known. This primordial desire to express oneself and be acknowledged can be seen even among animal species, although perhaps with less aesthetic and more territorial overtones.

Take birds, for example:

I once had a conversation with some friends about what birds communicate to each other when they chirp at sunrise or sunset. “Do you think they’re reporting how their day went, as in, ‘I found this great tree,’ or ‘Watch out for the yellow cat’?,” asked someone.

“No,” concluded another, “I think they’re just saying, ‘I’m here. I’m here.’”

I think that’s what we’re saying, too, when we write our initials in a wet cement sidewalk. We are here. Or when lovers carve their names into the trunk of a tree. We are here.

Or when someone writes something on a subway car, a freeway overpass or even a bathroom wall. We are here. We are here. We are here.

Some might argue that our apparent need to matter is simply an expression of the ahankara, or false ego. I think of it more in connection with a longing for immortality.

Psychotherapist Cavendish Moxon, in an article entitled, The Influence of Creative Desire Upon the Argument for Immortality (1922), wrote,

“The creative artist has a strong will to live, which is symbolized by belief in survival of death. Moreover, the artist tends to be conscious of the poverty of his expressions in comparison with the wealth of his impressions.” (italics added)

In other words, we are trying to put into words or images our very life force, which is far too subtle to be translated into the gross media of language or art. Yet, the futile attempt of the artist to express the inexpressible is, itself, inspiring because it connects him to the similar attempts of others, irrespective of time or culture.

It connects this 21st century woman using a computer keyboard, for example, to the 18th century man using a sharp stone.

Like a poet may convey a shared experience “between the lines” of her verse, or a physicist may collect quantum information from the spaces between particles, it may be the feeling behind the mark we make that communicates our common story most clearly.

Blue Sky Studios, Twentieth Century Fox, 2008

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