I was mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed last week when an instant message popped up. It was one of Bob’s fraternity brothers from college. He wrote, “Neil died suddenly.”
My mind went back to 1989. I was flying down the hill on my bike. It was summer and I was taking a six-week course and living at the sorority house in a small college town. Neil’s smile lit up his face as he waved to me – he was always quick to smile. He was tall and handsome with dark hair that fell to his shoulders. His distinctive combination of kindness and spontaneity attracted everyone to him like magnets.
It was Neil who introduced me to my husband. Neil was at our wedding a few years later, and we were also at his. But then, of course, life happened. The children arrived, along with the house and the jobs that kept us running from one thing to the next. We lost touch with Neil and many other friends from our college days.
Thanks to Facebook, we all reconnected 20 years later. Neil messaged me late one night a few years ago to tell me he was proud of me and Bob for creating a nonprofit organization to help kids with autism. That was a Neil move. If he thought of something kind, he shared it. He lived out loud in a positive kind of way, that left everyone feeling better for knowing him.
Neil was only 49-years-old. He had five children, two of whom are very young. It was too soon. Neil was too young.
When someone passes, their life is reduced to two dates with a dash in between. If you are anything like me, the first thing you do is the math. “He was way too young.” “Well, she had a good life.” “It was time.”
Ultimately, the dates are meaningless. It’s the dash that counts. The dash represents each moment and memory of the person’s life – the relationships, the love, the hopes, the dreams — each piece that contributed to the essence of who they were. Neil had a great dash.
In her poem “The Dash,” Linda Ellis writes about the importance of the space between those dates. I hope it offers you the same solace and perspective it offered to me.
I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on her casket from beginning to the end. He noted that first came the date of her birth and spoke of 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 would 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 is 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 have 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?
Peace & Love