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The Dash

There’s a poem that has circulated for a long time on the internet, and you’ve probably seen it in written form or in the form of a slide show with beautiful pictures from all aspects of nature.  The poem refers to the dash on a tombstone – the one that goes between the year you were born and the year you died.  It talks about how it doesn’t really matter about the dates themselves, but what really matters is what you’ve done with all the time in the middle of those years – or, the dash. 

In the past week, I’ve learned that a brand new baby died just days after her birth.  I’ve learned that a little boy who just underwent a last resort treatment for cancer found that the treatment has been unsuccessful.  And I’ve learned that the brother-in-law of a friend has been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor that will likely rob him of his life.  Every where I turned this week, the dash seemed more important. 

We don’t know how long we have when we arrive here on this earth.  We don’t know how much time our dash will be.  We certainly hope that when our time comes, someone is talking about how long, happy, and fulfilling our dash has been.  But that’s not the case for everyone. 

When I wrote the eulogy for my dad that appeared in the memorial booklet we printed for his funeral, I put the message in there that one thing I hoped to learn from him and the way he led his life was that you want to impact people here so that there is no one glad for your passing in the end.  You want people to cry, be mournful, and vow to miss you when you’re gone.  You want people to recall the great things you did, the kindness you showed, the generosity of your heart.  You want to make sure your dash, no matter how long or short, is the time when you loved and were loved.

As a child, I expected to grow up and be “something”.  I thought I might be a doctor, a nurse, a teacher.  I wanted to be “something”, and then be a mom.  It seemed at the time that being a mom was an accessory to adulthood.  You became “something”, then you had children that you could dress up, take out, and show off when you weren’t busy with what you became.  And while I will be the first person to admit that I do have times of regret that I didn’t end up as one of the “somethings” I dreamed about, what I did become is so much more important.  It’s the hardest thing I ever could have done in life.  I have three beautiful daughters, and it is my job to make sure they grow up knowing they are loved, that someone will always be available for them, and that they are not the accessories in my life, but they ARE my life.  It is my job to make the decisions that say Jim and I may be living frugally in our golden years, but we gave our kids every advantage, every benefit we could afford, every wonder life could offer to them.  It is my job to weigh the good and the bad of things, let them make mistakes where they will learn and help them avoid mistakes that will just be painful.  I won’t know for many years to come if I’ve done my job well.  There is no bonus pool each year, no evaluation every three months, no instant reward in the form of a paycheck each week.  Some days, the job seems impossible, and I think it would have been much easier to be a brain surgeon or nuclear physicist.  But I hope, at the end of my days, when someone is looking at my dash, they can turn towards my children and know that I did something with that space between the two dates.  I may not have my name in a by-line somewhere or in the medical journals or even noted as teacher of the year somewhere.  But I hope my children are great women.  That will be the achievement I most want to be remembered for.  These girls are my dash.