Sharing Your Dash

                               Sharing your Dash                                                               

                                                 Jim Burns

To ramble is to wander around in an aimless manner; to take a course with many turns or windings in a random, unsystematic fashion, to write in an aimless way, straying from one subject to another merely for the pleasure of it.

Well, I just got another one of those ramblings.  I recently received a Thank You card from a friend.  On the wording of the card started me thinking (some of you are saying, oh, no he’s thinking again).  The words on the card were: “In life, there are many paths you can take and many people who share the journey… but it’s the special people who help you along the way, and it’s the most important people who care enough to give of themselves unconditionally.” [1]

As I thought about those words, I thought about life itself.  In life, there are many paths you can take.  On those paths, there are others who will share in the journey with you.  My rambling thoughts were that it’s not just you on the journey, it’s about those who share the journey with you, good or bad.   My life matters.  Your life matters.  You and I can lead others toward the path of great wisdom, or we can lead others toward calamity, disgrace, death and even eternal death. 

I thought about the Book of Proverbs.  Proverbs are mostly ramblings of Solomon.  Proverbs are short, pithy, axiomatic sayings; ramblings that are wholly disconnected sayings of practical ethics, to promote wisdom, instructions, understanding, right living, sound counsel, justice, equity, prudence, knowledge, discretion, the fear of God, the avoidance of bad companions, how to bring up a child, avoidance of laziness, importance of industriousness, morality, chastity, and self-control – a guide for living. 

Proverbs are said to be one of the best guidebooks to success a young person can follow.  I believe it is the best guidebook for adults as well, even for older people like me, too!    In the prologue of Proverbs it gives its purpose: “for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young….”[2]

As a young man Solomon was consumed with a passion for knowledge and wisdom.[3]  Solomon’s intellectual attainments were the wonder of the age.   We still use the axiom “the wisdom of Solomon” as one of the best ideas around.  Following the guidebook from “the wisdom of Solomon” can make a real difference in one’s life.

Which brings me to the dash.  The word dash can mean several things: in a hurry; move quickly; run quickly; a small quantity of something, like putting a dash of salt in the peas.

However, I want to use the dash for another meaning. What is the significance of the dash as I use it?  I got to thinking about the dash in this meaning from a little poem that Linda Ellis’s wrote, “The Dash.” In my meaning and Linda’s meaning refers to the dash between a person’s date of birth and their date of death on their tombstone. The dash represents the time that the person spent on earth and serves as a symbol for their entire life. Wow!

Linda Ellis was working a corporate job when she was inspired to write “The Dash.” Her co-worker’s wife, who was terminally ill, wrote a letter in which she reflected on her life. The woman lamented the fact that she had spent time worrying about life instead of living it, and explained that if she had the chance to do it again, she would have been more present and less concerned about the future. The letter caused Linda to reflect on her own life, and in 1996, Ellis wrote the poem.[4]

Have you ever walked through a cemetery and noticed a (dash) between two dates on a tombstone?  That dash is between the person’s birth and the person’s death.  The dash is one’s life.  Think about that for a minute.  You may live only one year or a hundred years, when you’re gone, on your tombstone your life is only a dash.  That dash represents all you have done and all you’ve been in your life.  Sobering thought isn’t it. That little dash represents the life of the person, his/her deeds, his/her accomplishments, the lives he/she has touched, etc.

So when people walk by your tombstone after your death, it matters not how much you own, the cars you drive, the house you lived in, the cash you left in the bank. What matters is how you lived and loved, and how you spent your dash.

The only thing of importance in life are touching the lives of others, sharing God’s love with those around you.  All who walk by your tombstone, all they see of your life is a dash, except those whom your life has been touched by.  It is only the lives you have touched who will remember anything about you except a dash.  Think about that. A sobering thought, right?  Right!

Reach out and touch someone who needs a smile, a hug, a word of encouragement, a helping hand, or a prayer.  Give a listening ear to one who is struggling physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.  Take a moment to acknowledge someone who feels lonely; when a friend is sad; when a neighbor is sick; when a lonely elderly person needs a friend; one whose heart is aching from a wayward child.  Take a minute to listen to them, to hold their hand, to give them a hug; when an elderly man is struggling to get his trash to the curb, take a minute to wash away his problem by putting his trash on the curb for him; take a moment to hold the door for a woman who is struggling with a toddler, a diaper bag and a sack of groceries (not a big thing, but for the woman it’s a big deal). 

Your life can be more than just a dash.  Cook a casserole for a grieving friend; walk a dog for a shut-in; smile at a stranger (could be the only smile he’s had in days, weeks, or months); talk to a person on an elevator.  These are simple things, but they can greatly lengthen your dash. 

The simple things Jesus did are the things He is remembered for during his earthly ministry.  No matter if our names are never plastered on billboards, if we never win a Nobel Prize or never get our name on the front page of a newspaper, our simple act of kindness never goes unnoticed by our Creator, Lord and King.  Even a cup of cold water doesn’t go unnoticed by the Father.  My friend, you can do more than a dash in life.  You can make a difference.  AND God will reward you for it.  I have that on good authority from the Man.[5] 

The fact of the matter is, it’s never too late to add something to your dash.  Six years ago, I turned 77 years of age on June 4, 2017.  On June 2 [two days before my 77th birthday], I debuted a new adventure[6] to my chaplaincy to people.  Miss Dolly, my family pet, and I became a Therapy Dog / Chaplain Team to give cups of cold water to people who are struggling in life – we visit hospitals, senior citizen homes, hospice care, funeral homes, and disasters to bring some degree of comfort and companionship to people.

As it has turned out, it is an exciting and remarkable experience for us.  Bringing just a smile, a few minutes of sharing love with an animal is a great dash for Miss Dolly and me.  It is amazing that Miss Dolly seems to have a “calling” for this.  She loves people and she loves the opportunity to share that love with them.  What a dash!  Miss Dolly will have more than a dash; others will remember her love and attention to others.

Miss Dolly and I are retired now but with every vehicle that stops in our yard, Miss Dolly has to be the first one to greet the visitor(s).  She never senses a person’s standing in the community, whether they are rich or poor, young or old, tall or short, handsome or ugly, she greets everyone with the passionate love; she leans on them; in her own way, shows how much she appreciates the visit.  She is always the last to say goodbye to the visitors.  Anyone who has ever set foot on our property (and even in the subdivision we once lived in, everyone knew Dolly, she visited the community) and everyone Dolly visited in the nursing homes or hospital will know more about her dash, because Miss Dolly shared her dash with others.  

Finally, friend, someone is looking at your life.  Someone is going to share your journey.  The thing is you don’t always know who is following your example.  I heard a story about an old man who proclaimed to be an atheist.  He loved to torment pastors.  He was well versed in the Scriptures, and he loved to get the better of pastors; he enjoyed living just to embarrass, belittle, make light of, make discomfort, or make a pastor uneasy.  The old man had his granddaughter who was the apple of his eye visiting him one day when a pastor came by.  After the old man had whipped up on the preacher so much that the preacher tucked his tail and ran, the old man’s granddaughter jumped up on his lap and said, “Papaw, we don’t believe in God, and we don’t care if we go to hell, do we?”   To make a long story short, the old man called the preacher back and professed his faith in God. He realized that his example was bringing his granddaughter down with him, and he made a change; he wanted to make a change in his dash.

Think about it.  Who will follow your example?  Who is looking at your dash? Who will share your journey?   Who will succeed or fail because they have shared your journey? 

While you travel on your journey, will you leave crumbs along the way toward wisdom, success and heaven or calamity, death, and hell?   I challenge you to read the Book of Proverbs at least once every year, let some of that wisdom sink into your heart, and follow the outstanding wisdom there.

Have an awesome dash [adventure] and leave some positive crumbs along the way.

JB 070417 edited and expanded 010123


The Dash Poem (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 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 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 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 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?

Thanks Linda Ellis for sharing this inspiring and reflective piece of writing, and giving me the idea for sharing this with my readers.

Linda wrote the poem in 1996, and in 2005, Ellis worked with motivational author and publisher Mac Anderson to write The Dash: Making a Difference with Your Life. The book contained “The Dash” as well as a variety of uplifting anecdotes and quotations. In 2006, a video of the poem went viral, giving Ellis an even larger audience. As the poem gained popularity, Ellis decided to expand the poem’s message into a full-length self-help book titled Live Your Dash: Make Every Moment Count, which was published in 2011. Because the poem is about the dash between the date of birth and the date of death, “The Dash” has become a popular choice for funerals, with many eulogies beginning with a recitation of Ellis’s poem. Commemorative cards containing the poem have also become popular funeral tokens.

[1] A Thank You card given by Donna Wilson after her aunt’s funeral.  American Greetings, Cleveland OH

[2] Proverbs 1:2-4

[3] 1 Kings 3:9-12

[4] Linda Ellis and Mac Anderson, co-authored “The Dash”  (see in the appendix below)

[5] Matthew 10:42

[6] Adventure is defined in several ways: as an undertaking involving a great risk; an exciting or remarkable experience. 

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