Living in the Dash

What are we doing with our time here?


As I look through my Facebook feed, this has been a really hard couple of weeks for many people.  Several people I know have lost loved ones:  a spouse, a co-worker, a father, a grandfather, and a niece.  One of the things that sucks about getting older is the increasing frequencies of encounters with death.

When you’re younger, your experience with death is limited and sporadic — a distant relative…maybe one of your parent’s friends…occasionally a famous person you’re fond of.  Sometimes, it hits closer to home but that’s rare.  Here, in our 40’s, death is sadly more common.  Cancer.  Accidents.  Suicide. Violence.  Old age.  We get it from every angle.  We sit and watch a whole generation vanish as our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles pass on.

We are left to contemplate our own mortality and our legacy.  I wish I had something deep and profound to share; some way to comfort those suffering from loss or trying to make sense of what can sometimes seem random.  I am reminded of an poem by Linda Ellis that encourages us to spend our limited time on earth focusing on what really matters.

The Dash

by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend

He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end

He noted that first came her date of her birth
And spoke the following date with tears,

But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth.

And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not how much we own;
The cars, the house, the cash,

What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real

And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more

And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile

Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash

Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?

© 1996 All Rights Reserved, Linda Ellis

Written by Myrtis Smith

African American. Female. Christian. Sometimes-Vegetarian.

Wife. Mother. Daughter. Sister. Friend.

Writer. Teacher. Zumba Enthusiast.