The Dash

 My mother, Connie McDougal Hall standing near the grave of her paternal grandparents.

My mother, Connie McDougal Hall standing near the grave of her paternal grandparents.

On my trip to Croatia and Slovenia last year, our tour director would begin each day on the bus with a story or thought of some kind. When he read The Dash one morning, I asked him for a copy. It's the kind of prose I like. It rhymes, has a catchy rhythm to it and it conveys a thoughtful message. 

Last fall, I took my Mom with me to an event in Wisconsin and we visited Campbellsport, where her grandparents lived and raised 10 sons (the oldest was my grandfather). I knew my mom would enjoy this trip and I would enjoy taking her, but I wasn't prepared for how much I LOVED being there. Campbellsport is a small town, that hasn't experienced much growth over the years, so it was easy to imagine my great-grandparents living there and feel their presence as we located the property that had been their family farm and explored other locations that would have been a part of their lives. For years I've shared what I know about my great grandmother Minnie McDougal. I have access to a decent collection of photos and we have letters she wrote and several other documents and memorabilia, but it still isn't enough. I want more. When I stood at her grave marker with my mom, I thought about her life and what I don't know. Then I remembered this poem and thought about the influence her 1890 - 1950 (dash) has had on my life. I am in many ways the product of her courage, faith and fortitude. I'm certain that I parent in similar ways. I definitely want the same things for my boys that she wanted for hers. And because of what she demonstrated and sacrificed for her family, I have been immensely blessed. 

I'm so tickled that FamilySearch has created the Define Your Dash challenge. I'm going to write more about it tomorrow, but I wanted to share the poem first, so you can reflect on the dash of someone you have loved and lost and consider how much you wish you knew that you don't know. This deficit can become the motivation you need to better define your own dash by writing and documenting personal stories. Read on and stayed tuned. 

The Dash
by Linda Ellis copyright 1996

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 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?


By the way, Angie Lucas wrote the article and the 144 questions that you can use to participate in the #52Stories project on familysearch.org.  How cool is that?