"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." -- Linda Ellis
During the holidays my wife, nephew and I joined kindred souls on Christmas day and enjoyed a heartwarming fellowship, along with a home cooked entrée, paired with other traditional dishes, and even a glass…or two…of vino, which was quite tasteful to the palate.
As with any gathering of family or friends, or even perhaps, on a different occasion, among colleagues or business associates, or possibly with a stranger or passerby, there is bound to be a discourse of a variety of (at least one or two) discussions about all sorts of subjects. This day was no exception. We chitchatted about many types of trivial subjects, ranging from current politics…to the latest skinny on family and friends…to diets that some of us were on; or at least, intending to go on. And in the midst of our conversation, a golden nugget unexpectedly surfaced.
I do not quite remember the context of what we were talking about, but one of the hosts inserted a tangential statement about a poem titled The Dash, by author Linda Ellis, who wrote this in 1996, after reading a letter penned by a dying wife of a fellow coworker. In her letter, the dying woman wrote:
“Regrets? I have a few. Too much worrying about finding the right husband and having children, being on time, being late and so on. It didn’t matter. It all works out and it would have worked out without the worries and the tears. If I would have known then what I know now. But I did and so do you. We’re all going to die. Stop worrying and start loving and living.”
Ellis was moved by the woman’s words and, in fact, those words changed the way she thought about life. This encounter between two strangers – only connected by profound words on a piece of paper – inspired Ellis to write a poem about the Dash found between two dates on a gravestone.
The poem describes the importance of living out our Dash … the only one life we have … and not to excessively concern ourselves with where we might have started out in life: rich or poor, educated or uneducated, two-parent household or one, good health or bad, high social standing or low. Instead, we must realize that we’re all “Captains of our ship,” able to choose how to live life each day. And how we lived our life will be echoed in our eulogy.
As I face another brain MRI and PET scan next Wednesday, instead of wondering if these tests are going to reveal if I am free or not from cancer, I will focus on my Dash and how to spend each day of my life. Admittedly, there are times that I think about the former dash of my past – the mistakes I've made and the people I have hurt. In spite of my past mistakes, I'll strive to push forward and focus on how to live out my Dash, and especially with those I love and care about.
- I think of my wife who is still asleep on this early Saturday morning. How will I show appreciation to her today? What new positive memory can we create together? And how can I make her smile, or even perhaps laugh?
- I think of my family. How can I stay in more contact with them? In what ways can I show them more respect in regards to their hopes and dreams? And how can I be a better listener?
- I think of those who’ve blessed me with their true friendship. How can I spend more time with them in this busy life of ours? And in what ways can I be a better friend?
- I think of those I manage at work. How can I help them grow professionally? Do my actions, decisions and behavior inspire or hinder them? Do they see me as a leader or just a boss who assigns tasks?
One of the many lessons I’ve learned from having cancer, and this may be the primary lesson: it doesn’t matter if I have cancer or not. What matters most is how I live out my Dash with those so dear to me.
Regardless of the results from Wednesday’s tests, I will strive to live out my Dash the best way I can…
"And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like [I’ve] never loved before."
Read the entire poem, The Dash.