Living your dash, remembering to take stock

Last week was a sad and sobering one for me. Two people whose lives had intersected with mine in very different ways passed away in the same week. The reality is that death is part of life, and at my age that reality hits you in the face more frequently than it used to, but these two cases in particular reminded me of the important message conveyed in Linda Ellis’s poem The Dash. These two individuals had never met, and their interests and talents were miles apart. But in reflecting on their lives and the loss being felt by those left to grieve, what is striking for both of them is the powerful impact each of them left on so many, many people. They both had a natural gift for mentoring others and used this gift to full advantage; they both lives their dashes exceedingly well.

Jim Myles

As it happens, both of these gentlemen were teachers. One was a popular and respected retired biology teacher, who also directed outstanding annual high school musical productions for decades and took groups of students on international trips, enriching their learning experiences in further ways. In his retirement, he organized and guided international tours for the general public, which were similarly popular. Our local Choral Society sang happy birthday to him on the Tuesday evening to celebrate his 70th birthday, all was apparently well, and then he passed away very suddenly that same Sunday. His dash was full to overflowing, but he has left a shocked and saddened community of friends and admirers.

Alex Lopez Ortiz

The other loss wasn’t a surprise, because this former computer science colleague of mine had been suffering from advanced cancer for 18 months, but the world should not be losing a star computer science researcher and teacher at the age of 49. Although this person had left my university, UNB, many years ago for another institution, the four years he spent with us near the beginning of his career had a significant impact on our students, on the way we collaborated with each other, and on our approach to curriculum design. He was intelligent, innovative, collaborative, funny, and always engaged, full of new ideas and wanting to help make things work. We have always felt fortunate to have him with us at UNB for as long as we did. I can’t imagine how difficult his painful illness and subsequent loss must be for his family, because it is difficult enough for those who worked with him and those who learned from him.

These most recent sad deaths remind me anew of how none of us know when our time will come. We never know when we may not be able to run again – or walk, or travel again, or see (and hence read) any more. And we never know when we won’t wake to a new day. So, while we’re here – and while we have our health – it’s important to make every day count. Don’t end up with a list of regrets. Our kindnesses to others count far more than the number of meetings we attend or whether we have the latest cool thing. Unfortunately we keep having to be reminded of this in the most painful ways. Linda Ellis’s poem undoubtedly says it better than I ever could.

RIP Jim Myles and Alex Lopex-Ortiz.

The Dash         by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.

He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end.

He noted that first came her date of her 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 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’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 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?

© 1996 All Rights Reserved, Linda Ellis

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15 Responses to Living your dash, remembering to take stock

  1. This poem is a lesson our entire country should abide by! Thank you for sharing with us. The memories of your friends will last you a lifetime!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Rita. You are right on both counts as far as I’m concerned. Public policy and the way treat each other in our countries should reflect what is really the Golden Rule. Also, our loved ones and those we encounter in our lives who have had an impact on us remain with us after they have passed on. And for that I am very grateful.

  2. Again,thanks Jane for putting words to thought and emotions that I share; I met Jim Myles when we were teenagers at FHS. Recently one of his grandsons was cheering in front of me at at basketball game. I am old enough now for friends to die of natural causes…chastening. And you’re right about death becoming a more prominent feature in my life. The Dash is a new and lovely poem to me but I am familiar with the concept. I will do my best, as did Jim.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Of course, I’d forgotten that you would have known each other since before Gilbert and Sullivan! That’s where I met both of you, gosh, more than 40 years ago. That was a special time; I can still picture him on stage, eyes electric and movements captivating. Jill, you will do your best, indeed!

  3. jennypellett says:

    As my brother in law fights for his life in hospital this week, thank you Jane for this very poignant post. I’m sorry to hear of your two losses. Sadly, the inevitable always brings it closer to home and gives us pause. The poem is wonderful – I’m going to cut, paste and keep it.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh, Jenny, I’m sorry to hear of you are going through this tough time, feeling helpless in the face of your brother-in-law’s struggle. The stages of grief are real and avoidable – and simply will not and cannot be rushed. But the concept in this poem can help. Thinking of you.

  4. Roy McCarthy says:

    A pity more of us don’t realise this earlier in life when we might, collectively, have the power to forge a better world. Too late when we’ve had our day and watch others march down the wrong road. We didn’t listen, neither will they.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Sadly, Roy, at this particular juncture in history, your scepticism seems warranted. But at the level of human being to human being, this never has to be the case. And as my wise younger son says when I lament the world’s shortcomings, “Things can be changed; ir just takes one step at a time.”

  5. jane tims says:

    Don’t want the dash to end … yet it does.

  6. alesiablogs says:

    So sorry of these losses. Everyday is precious. Thank you for sharing. DASH- yes- appropriate . Blessings to you my friend, Alesia

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