Did you ever see the doodle/tag Kilroy was here? It was popular when I was a kid. It was a tag that came out of WWII and was a precursor to graffiti. It continued being popular for a while after WWII, such as my coming up days in the 1960s.
It is generally thought that the origin of the tag was from James J. Kilroy who worked at a Massachusetts shipyard in WWII. When riveters finished their shift would make a chalk mark at the end of his shift to show where he had stopped and the next riveter had started. JJ Kilroy allegedly began tagging uniquely to stop the practice. Dishonest riveters would erase the previous worker’s mark and chalk a new mark farther back on the same seam, giving themselves credit for part of the previous riveter’s work, as Wikipedia says. The tag grew from there.
Then in the late 1960s and early 1970s spray paint graffiti came about, more tagging. John Naar was the first graffiti photographer. His pictures were published the 1973 seminal book on graffiti, by Norman Mailer and Mervyn Kurlansky’s “The Faith of Graffiti”. The Amazon description says,
In 1973 author Norman Mailer teamed with photographer Jon Naar to produce The Faith of Graffiti, a fearless exploration of the birth of the street art movement in New York City.
EPrata photo of local train tags
Did you ever see names or initials scrawled in wet cement? I saw this article at the magazine Gothamist,
A gang of tween vandals were “tagging” their names in wet cement outside their school in Middlesex, New Jersey recently when the local constabulary happened upon them. Taking swift action, police collared the young hoodlums, took them downtown for questioning, and finally handed them over to their parents, who signed an agreement to punish the children and paid a $250 fine each—except the father of 11-year-old Kelly Zierdt, who is refusing to pay his daughter’s debt to society. And now his little princess is being called before a judge to face justice.
Graffiti and tagging isn’t new. The Atlantic published an article about the graffiti on the ancient standing walls and sidewalks at Pompeii, Italy.
From Roman walls to Twitter, humans have a long-standing obsession with leaving their mark. …The oldest known graffiti at Pompeii also happens to be among the simplest: Gaius was here. Or, more precisely, “Gaius Pumidius Diphilus was here,” along with a time stamp, which historians have dated to October 3, 78 B.C. … So-and-so was here has been one of the messages humans have scrawled, etched, and eventually Sharpied and spray painted onto public spaces for millennia.
From across time and across oceans, the same impulse resides in humans to tag, make a stamp, declare identity, do something that remains. Why? Roger Gastman tried explaining the urge in the same Atlantic article-
“Overall, people want to write on things to be known,” Roger Gastman, the author of The History of American Graffiti, told me in an email. “To be everywhere at once yet nowhere at all.”
To be known. Man wants to be known, he wants to know that after he departs he won’t be lost to the mists of time as his body becomes dust. But he will be forgotten. He will be dust and he will be gone from this earth. Instinctively, he knows this.
All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. (Ecclesiastes 3:20).
Will I be remembered? Will my mere few decades on earth carry any weight at all as the press of eternity weighs down the memory of me and as the overlay of other memories of other people rise up, compressing mine to a sliver, and then poof, my wispy remaining presence even as fleeting memory is obliterated completely? Noooo, I WAS HERE!
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. ~Walt Whitman, ‘Song of Myself’
My first thoughts about eternity came to my mind when I was in my 20s. When I was teaching school in my twenties, a woman I’d taught with for a few years named Ann retired. A few months after she retired, a phase of life she had eagerly been looking forward to, she died quickly of cancer. It started me thinking of life and death. Is this all there is? To work to live, then die right after you retire, nothing to be gained? What was the point of life? Was there an afterlife? If so, what was the thing that allowed someone in? Do we all get in? When someone close to you dies, these are the thoughts one naturally begins to think. I WAS HERE!
When we turn to Ecclesiastes again, we see that the verse says,
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Therefore, we know there is an eternity. We know that we do not stop when our heart stops. We know there is a God. We know that he is so much higher than us we can’t understand all his works from start to finish. We know this, instinctively. It is the urge that pushes us to tag, write, declare, “I WAS HERE.”
My friend recently discovered that a High School friend had died. She wrote about the issue of eternity at her blog. What Happens When You Die? Here is an excerpt, please read it in its entirety. It’s good.
I do know what happens when we die, and I will share that with you now since I’ve been asking you if you know. In Hebrews 9:27 it says that it is appointed for men to die once, and then after that is judgement. For those of us who have believed in God’s Son Jesus, and are placing our trust in His perfectly sinless life, death on a cross as punishment for our sins, and resurrection to life (the indication that Jesus sacrifice was acceptable to the Father, and His power over death) our judgement was taken care of by Jesus on the cross. So for we who believe and are born again “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8; please click on the link and read the entire chapter). But for those people who do not believe in Jesus and are not trusting Him to pay the penalty for their sins, they will face eternal judgement and condemnation “and these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46 please read this entire passage)
Our barbaric yawps, graffiti spray, Kilroy tags, claims staked in cement only to be smoothed over by a crushing roller, will dissipate into the ether. All of it. Yet we want to be heard. Mr Gastman was getting close to the truth, ‘we want to be known.’
We will be known. We will go on. This is at once either a terrifying thought for the unsaved, or a comforting thought for the saved. Those who are not in Christ, who have not repented of sins and asked Him for forgiveness, will face Him in judgment. He knows you, unsaved person. You are known. The problem is, you do not know Him. Our fists shaken at the sky, our tremulous childish voices yawping into the cosmos are heard and seen by the One who created us.
What happens when we die? Eternity comes in an instant, and we go on as changed beings in hell or in heaven. Will we descend to join the moans and cries of others who declared their own eternity, only to discover that their piteous cries on earth melted into the air almost as instantly as their destination eternity had come? Or will they ascend to glory to know and be known?
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV).
You see, we are known. We are here. Yet here is as temporary as the tag that declares presence. Presence goes away. Eternity remains. Do you want to be known as friend to the One who will save you? Or do you want to be known as enemy to the One who condemns you? Our life is not about I AM HERE, but I am there. Unbeknownst to the unsaved, they have already been tagged.
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15).
Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:3).
This is the ultimate tag. This is where it matters most of all where your name is. Not on a subway train. Not on a ship hull. Not in wet cement. Your tag in the Lamb’s Book of Life is where it matters ultimately.