Molly’s name dances on the wall. Two loopy “l”s tango together before crashing down into a finishing “y.” The way the letters are strung together, you could almost see her hand gliding across the plastic laminate bathroom partition, announcing to the world that she, Molly, sat on that very toilet seat.
But as any compulsive person could tell you in vivid detail, tens of thousands of students and faculty have been on that selfsame spot in the women’s restroom of Evans Hall, making our Molly a far cry from unique. There is nothing special about writing “[insert name] was here,” yet this hackneyed form of vandalism pervades on bathroom walls, trees and park benches. So why are some people obsessed with making their mark on the world in this unimaginative way? Three explanations come to mind.
1. The philosophical reason: Marking our names in places as we pass through them concretizes our abstract experience of life. During the sporadic moments when your perception becomes ghost-like, when you are unsure what reality is following a long study session in Main Stacks, when you do not know if your pencil is real, let alone your own existence, it helps to formally declare your presence on a bathroom wall. If you are ever in the middle of a Cartesian-like crisis, instead of “cogito ergo sum,” try “I write on a bathroom wall, therefore I was in a bathroom stall.” It definitely eases those existential anxiety pangs.
2. The dog reason: It’s a territorial thing. Like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant, when a person writes his name on a surface, that makes the surface belong to him. Or possibly, on a more complex dog level, it’s a form of communicating one’s whereabouts — tracing a pathway.
3. Probably the real reason: It’s fear. Beyond philosophical ramblings and canine metaphors, fear is what motivates the bulk of what we do. We make marks on bathroom walls for the same reason we attempt to make our mark on society. We worry that, once we die, the only piece left to show for our existence will be in the objects we have touched, essays ascribed to our names, papers proving ownership. But this type of material fear is for the weak. Instead of aiming to have our names attributed to important accomplishments, we ought to work toward making our mark on other people.
Bathroom stalls can be bulldozed, essays burned, papers lost. The only true, lasting way to make our lives important is to be important to other people. The very finite spark of our lives is not extinguished when we pass away; it burns a fire in all those whose lives we have touched.
Nothing demonstrates this better than another piece of graffiti, just a few stalls over from Molly’s proclamation. It reads, “Ann, in my dreams you’re alive.” Whoever Ann is, whoever she was, she can no longer carve her name on a park bench or tree, scribble it on a bathroom wall, sign it to the bottom of a love note.
Sad though this may be, none of it matters. Sooner or later every object we touch turns to dust. Sooner or later we all go the way of Ann. What matters is the fact that she is alive in someone’s dreams. There, she exists the way she once did. Her smile, her voice, the way she moved — it’s all vibrantly there in someone’s mind. Names assigned to objects mean nothing after the object decays or the person passes away. A name held in someone’s memory, on the other hand, is truly indestructible.