February 18, 2022

BARAN | Letters To the Writing on the Wall

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My favorite study spot is a cozy nook on the fourth floor of Uris Library. It has fantastic views of Ho Plaza, the Slope and Cayuga Lake.It’s a good place to study. But try as I might to work efficiently and without distraction, my eyes drift to the left of the desk, drawn by the writing on the wall.The white brick wall is festooned with chicken scratch, symbols and all other manners of writing, scrawled in utensils of every variety. There are obscene jokes and gibberish, inspirational messages and echoes of crushed dreams. The white wall is the hidden page in every Cornell yearbook — it’s  been there since the wall was last painted over, and it will remain until it’s painted over again.

This article is the first in a series of letters I intend to write to these anonymous Cornellians. They probably didn’t intend for their messages to appear in a newspaper. They also likely didn’t realize their messages would be important to a guy sitting in the same place they once did. But here we are. 

“This is my legacy, and now, you are part of it, and I am part of yours.”

To the Author of the Writing on the Wall: 

When I try to picture you as you were when you scrawled this message on the wall, amongst the notes of farewell, love letters and expressions of regret, I imagine a senior in their final days here. You might have been studying for your last exams, staring longingly out at the sun-soaked Slope, taking in the perpetual motion of Ho Plaza and the slow rolls of the Ithaca hills. You might have been struggling with a difficult math problem, knowing your success didn’t hinge on your ability to solve it, and smiling back at a time when you thought it did. Maybe you were just sitting in your favorite nook, looking out on Ho Plaza before packing up your bags for the last time, remembering the countless nights spent here hunched over your computer in misery. 

I like to think that you were wandering the campus the day before graduation, soaking in springtime at Cornell one last time, and you strolled back up to the cozy desk you had visited once your sophomore year during exams. I like to think that you read the writing on the wall, took out a pencil and slowly etched, “This is my legacy, and now, you are part of it, and I am part of yours.”

Regardless of its source, your message expresses a beautiful sentiment. And it’s true. By writing a simple message on a wall in Uris, you became intertwined with the lives of all who read it. The reader may skim over the words quickly or use your message as a basis for a piece in The Cornell Daily Sun. Regardless of how much time the reader spends considering it, the short message touched them, however slightly.

Memories make us who we are. Our sense of being is defined by our past experiences, values that guide our actions and even moments that we don’t remember. Our capacities for empathy, violence and kindness are all defined by the cumulative effect of our lived experiences. Therefore, I think that every single one of our experiences, including reading a note written on a wall, plays some role in guiding our future actions. 

In that logic, your message reveals its truth. I join your legacy by pondering your words, and you join mine by influencing my future actions. The idea of a legacy being something so simple as a message on a wall is comforting. It chips away at the idea that only great, concrete actions are true legacies. 

I’ve been confronted with the deaths of peers recently, which has spurred lots of thoughts about legacies. I’ve concluded that they’re confusing. The only logical reason to leave a legacy is to help the people and things you care about after you’re gone. You don’t even know my name, but you invited me into yours. It makes me happy to be included in your legacy, and for you to have joined mine. Thank you for that. 


A Reader of the Writing on the Wall 

Christian Baran is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Honestly runs every other Friday this semester.