I had a conversation with a friend over dinner Tuesday night and she was describing a talk she heard once in which the speaker was talking about your life in terms of "the Dash". Turns out that concept is based off a poem by Linda Ellis. Thank you to Josh Yoder, I have now tracked that poem down and so I share it with you here...
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 the date of her birth
And spoke the following dates 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 was 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?
Linda Ellis - The Dash
This concept became real to be in December of 2005, with the loss of a dear friend. We had grown up together. Our families were friends. Our Dad's worked together. We shared toys, vacations, and plenty of embarrassing stories. Even when we lived in different cities and went to different schools our lives were intertwined. We were both middle children. We were both independent. We both went through some rebellious stages. We both loved life and people to fullest.
I'll never forget the morning. It was just before 5:00 when my mom woke me to tell me the news. She sat on the side of my bed and gently tried to explain. I heard the words and yet I felt nothing. It didn't feel real, possible, tangible. She left me, laying in bed trying to catch up with the words she'd finished. I was 20 years old, he was 19. You don't lose friends when you're 20. People aren't supposed to die at 19.
My family gathered later to talk about the loss. We went around in a circle and shared our favorite memory of him. I could picture each story. Each moment felt like the day before. Life had been moving forward and suddenly I felt I'd hit a wall. Time shouldn't continue to move, and the world couldn't possibly still be spinning.
But it did.
In the years since that day I have thought about him more times than I could ever count. More this week than in quite a while. I played a song a friend wrote for him over and over on the way to lunch, on the way home from work, in the car on the way here this morning. Listening to those words and remembering...
Our dash. When we're living in our dash it's hard to imagine the end. When I picture the end of my life I see myself old and frail like the woman in the end of the movie Titanic. Falling asleep and never waking up. We don't picture ourselves at 19, 25, even 40. The rest of our lives - how long is that?
If we postpone living our lives the way we want them to be remembered, thinking there is still time to change later than for some of us we may miss that window of opportunity. This idea has been ever-present for me in the past few years since that life altering day. I have one chance to leave a legacy, what will that legacy contain? When my sisters stand to speak at my funeral, what will they say? Who will be there? Which of my friends will still be part of my life? Who will have loved me up until that day? Will they celebrate that I am with my savior or will there be mourning for the life I hadn't yet lived?
If this idea doesn't haunt you on occasion than perhaps it should. Not in a morbid, dreading death sort of way...but in a way that guarantees that your life is one of purpose.
My head is swimming with thoughts I wish I had to words to share. All of my desires to see accomplished before the end of my dash. I hope to write about them when they come to me in words that could be read and understood. For now I will leave you with the words of some far wiser than I...
And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years. - Abraham Lincoln
Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. - Albert Einstein
"You don't get to choose how you're going to die. Or when. You can only decide how you're going to live. Now. - Joan Baez
"Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans" - John Lennon
"Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry. - Mark Twain
"Tell me who admires you and loves you, and I will tell you who you are" - Charles Augustin Sainte-Beauve