A good 20 years or so ago, I attended a business conference. One of the speakers on the agenda was Lou Holtz. Well known and highly regarded as a successful college football coach, Lou is also a terrific motivational speaker.
I recall him being both entertaining and inspirational – delivering cleverly crafted one-liners interspersed with meaningful life lessons. But there’s one thing I remember very specifically. During his speech he recited – from memory – a poem entitled The Dash.
Here’s the poem in its entirety, reprinted with permission:
by Linda Ellis
I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning… to the end.
He noted that first came the date of 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
they spent alive on earth,
and now only those who loved them 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 still can be rearranged.
To 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 lived your dash?
Copyright 1996-2021 SW Inspire Kindness, thedashpoem.com
I love that poem! But I haven’t given it a second thought for a couple of decades, at least not the full text of it. What was it that triggered my brain to reach deep into its archives and pluck that specific memory?
I recently attended a family wedding. The minister, when addressing the bride and groom, was both entertaining and inspirational. He shared some personal stories. They were the kinds of stories that illustrate how a marriage can be tested, and how those tests can either strengthen a marriage… or break one.
At the heart of his message was this simple truth. Love isn’t about your wedding day, or your honeymoon, or your anniversaries, or the births of your children. Those are certainly important days and worth celebrating. But love is about everything that happens in between the important days. Good times and bad. Successes and failures. Illnesses and health. Poverty and wealth.
That’s when I made the connection to the poem that I heard Lou Holtz recite some 20 years ago. The minister was imploring them to pay attention to “their dash.”
More recently I attended a graveside memorial service. Family and friends had gathered to celebrate a life well-lived. The obituary clearly stated his dates of birth and death, but the conversations didn’t dwell on those. No, those facts will mark his gravestone. But that dash in between? He would have been proud of the things that were said about how he lived his dash.
One, the “dashes” are important. Not just your dash, but those of your immediate family, extended family, and ancestors. What do you know about their dashes? What do you WANT to know? A good genealogy tool might help you identify the important dates associated with someone’s life, but the things you’ll want to remember about that person and reflect upon will be associated with their dash.
Two, because the dashes are important, you should make an effort to document them. There is so much more to people than what you read in their obituaries or hear during a eulogy. Those are more like trailers for a full-length movie, but you know the movie will be so much more fulfilling. Think about the conversations that occur around the “photo boards” on display at weddings, graduations, and funerals. THAT’s where the memories are triggered, and the stories unfold. Those are the kinds of conversations you want to capture, not just for yourself, but for those you hold close and the generations that follow.
And three, if nothing else, perhaps the poem gave you some inspiration for how you want to live YOUR dash. I hope so. And if there are others in your life who might enjoy the poem, I hope you’ll forward them the email that brought you here.
Life is short. None of us knows how long our dash will last.
What we DO know, however, is a lot can happen in a dash.
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