Several years ago I introduced a concept to my mother called ‘Cousins Camp’. I had recently discovered it through a client of mine who also had a large family and I thought we could benefit from following their example. In essence, it’s a 3-4 day family retreat where all of the cousins get together and participate in a variety of family & team-building activities. The responsibility to run the program rotates each year among the mothers so everyone gets a chance to lead. For many years now Cousins Camp has become a family staple and something the cousins/grandchildren look forward to each summer.

A few summers ago, during our annual Cousins Camp, a small structure had been built near a small grove of trees at our family ranch. While concrete was being poured around the foundation my mother had arranged for each of the grandchildren to leave their hand print as the concrete was setting. Mitch, while eternally shy and quiet, was excited to participate. He had no idea at the time how precious his contribution would soon become to his mother and father. 

Fast-forward to the summer of 2013 when I visited my mother’s ranch and stumbled across Mitchell’s hand print. I had all but forgotten about it. But there it was, covered in leaves like a secret nature was trying to keep ... obscured by the shifting shadow of the trees. Upon seeing it I fell to my knees and immediately sobbed. I couldn't believe how small and sweet his hand was and how I wished to hold it so. Within eye-shot of my son’s hand print was the tree-fort bridge he so bravely crossed when he was an even younger boy. Suddenly I was haunted by days gone by and longed for the warmth and comfort of yesteryear. 

As I sat on the dirt trying to collect myself I couldn't help but think that 20 years from now that very bridge where Mitch showed such bravery will have weathered and decayed and all the cousins, who are children now, will have families of their own. The echo of days gone by will become fainter, and eventually silent. Their children, like all children, will look to the hope and promise of tomorrow – giving little thought to those who came before them. 

We may not remember the details of days gone by, but the effects of those moments, good or bad, will long outlast their memory. Watching my own children grow, and die, has been cause for serious reflection. Whether we place our hands in setting concrete or find our hands in each other’s lives, we are shaping each other … and ourselves … and leaving a lasting impression. 

My little son’s hands have painfully shaped me. Now, as I look to my own hands, I promise to use them to bind wounds and never be the cause of them; to use them to build and not destroy, to love and not hate.

That little hand print hidden in the shadow of the woods, from a boy who was as sweet and shy as he was broken, has left more than an impression in concrete. And I vow to never allow the passage of time or easier paths to undo the lessons he taught me at so high a price.