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When our subdivision was annexed by the city a couple of years ago, all the old streets were dug up to lay new water and sewer lines. It was a mess for many moons, but they finished it up neatly with beautiful new pavement that was smooth, unblemished and pothole free.

But then.

Then one day a painter arriving for a job almost missed the turn, hit the brakes too hard, careened into the neighborhood and left a trail of white paint from an upturned can.

It’s still there, months later, and no doubt will be with us for years to come.

A big puddle marks where the painter stopped for his appointment. The homeowner tried to mask the mess by painting over it with black, but somehow that seemed to make it more obvious.

Lately, our neighbors across the street have had a crew ripping off their old Masonite siding and replacing it with vinyl. A big truck brought in a huge dumpster for the construction debris. The driver couldn’t back straight in, so he pulled up into my yard and cut the wheel so he could maneuver into their driveway.

It had just rained, and he left two big ruts in our lawn. Big ruts.

When he came back a week later to retrieve that dumpster and replace it with an empty one, he did it twice more.

Now we have six big ruts. He’s just doing his job, I know, but we’ll probably get two more when he returns this week to pick up the final load.

Tracks.

We all leave tracks behind.

Muddy footprints on the carpet come to mind, or a trail of dirty snow, but that’s not what tickles my thoughts when passing by that streak of paint in the road.

We all leave tracks in the world, and especially the people in our lives.

I suspect we have all seen the ruts left by people who thoughtlessly dump their unaddressed emotional garbage on their children or friends or co-workers.

Like thoughtless drivers who toss bottles and cans and empty fast-food containers to the side of the road, any number of people leave brokenness in their wake for someone else to deal with.

But we’ve seen positive tracks too. I rejoice when I see parents leaving a trail of thoughtful attention and tender care to their children, even when it comes in the form of tough love.

I smile when I see colleagues and students lifting each other up with listening ears and open hearts and words of encouragement or wisdom.

I take comfort in observing neighbors who build community by caring about one another and supporting each other in times of need, without regard to their political persuasions.

I want to be counted among those people. Don’t you?

We all leave tracks: whether they look like smiles or sorrows, strength or scars is up to us.

We may have some muddy tracks to clean up first, but it’s never too late to start stepping more lightly and lovingly, leaving winsome footprints behind.

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