Some time ago, I was visiting a cemetery and found myself taking note of the dates engraved on a particular tombstone. On the lefthand side of the stone was a month/day/year combination that I easily identified as the deceased's birthdate. On the righthand side was his equally obvious death date. And in between the two dates was a small dash. As I contemplated these three elements, it occurred to me that while the specified dates represent only two days in this man's life, the dash represents thousands more! Yet, these latter dates go unrecorded. A certain mystery is contained in the tombstone. Was he married? Did he have kids? Was he ever fired from a job? Did he graduate high school or college? Did his child ever contract a terminal disease? Did his mother die? Did he ever purchase his first home? If so, what are these dates? I'll never know because I had no personal relationship with this man, and the tombstone is an inadequate historical record.
Yet, the dash on this tombstone is found on millions of others worldwide, and more are being produced every day. Isn't it odd that such an insignificant mark is regularly used to represent so much? And isn't it curious that we seem so obsessed with remembering the days we are born and die, but we're content to represent the vast majority of our notable life events with something decidedly unceremonious? The future passers-by of our tombstones will only know when we came to be and when we passed...and nothing more. If left to the wiles of the tombstone, our lives will be as inconsequential as the dash engraved on its face!
The good news is that tombstones are not the only historical records we leave behind. Other records are contained in the hearts and minds of our children, in the stories of friends and colleagues, in the things we write and create, in the organizations and churches we impact, and in the fingerprints we leave on every single person with whom we come into contact throughout our lives. And as we maximize these personal and corporate encounters--as we spend more quality time with our children, make positive impacts at work and church, foster healthy relationships with friends and co-workers, treat strangers with dignity and respect, etc.--we negate the hollowness of the dash. Sure, our tombstones will have dashes on them, but they won't be empty and meaningless punctuation. For those who resolve not to accept the dash but to live the dash--to make the most of every opportunity and to seize the day--there will be victory and legacy in the end.
I don't remember whose grave it was I observed that day, but I hope someone does. I hope he lived the dash!