The Deadly Dash

So I’m out taking photographs in the cemetery early one morning (don’t ask), and I’m passively noticing differences:

Every headstone has a different name

Every headstone has a different birth date

Every headstone has a different death date

Every headstone has a different epitaph

When all of a sudden—Bam!—it hits me like a ton of bricks. Every single headstone, without exception, has one thing in common. The dash between the birth and death dates.

Now the Universe has my rapt attention and I’m actively paying attention. That little mark—the dash—represents everything in-between; a person’s whole life.

The more I think about it, the more outrageous it becomes. A little “dash” to represent an entire life?!

I shared this observation with my friend Sandi White of Under Southern Skies and in her sage, Southern style she said:

We start at the beginning of our lives and then seem to ‘dash’ for the finish line! If we’re lucky we make it a 90-yard dash instead of a shorter run.”

I intend to downshift and live the dash slower than a herd of turtles in a jar of peanut butter!


79 thoughts on “The Deadly Dash

  1. That dash is filled with everything: delighted smiles and choked-back tears, crippling pain and hugging sweet grandchildren. The dash is our reminder to be aware of the love which surrounds that beginning and ending date (and perhaps even stretches beyond). Inspirational post this morning –Ms. Laurie!– Love, Kathy

  2. How very thoughtful. Since grave markers are only to mark that someone had been here, our legacy is left within our life presence, our example, our work, art, writing, etc. Richly painted and or presented that would never fit into a dash!

  3. Recent events have slowed my “dash” to a more sedate amble, I couldn’t dash if my tail feathers were on fire. A moderate pace affords me the opportunity to study the flowers, not just a blur of colors. I hear the music, not the background chatter of of the birds. Instead of the clock pacing my time, I watch the the light of the Sun illuminating the birth, the growing, prime and gradual waning of the long day. And as was so well put on the back cover of The Last Whole Earth Catalog, ” Evening. Thanks again.”

  4. I like Helen Keller’s take – Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.
    Security is mostly a superstition.

    In that context I also like the definition of “superstition” that goes – a superstition is only a superstition when it is not a superstition.

    I strongly suspect that almost everything people belief is truth, is actually superstition (and of course i cannot prove that 100%).

    So – here’s to LIVING – a long an interesting life.

    Shifting down is a possibility, so is shifting up.
    All roads appear potentially infinite.
    It seems to be what we make of the journey that is the interesting bit.

  5. Damn. This is a brilliant insight, my friend. What you say here is so fundamentally true, it’s hit me in a big way. And I love Sandi’s follow-up comment just as well. Thanks for the thought!

    • Dorothy – Yes, what happens between the beginning and the end — the journey — is vital. And when we really stop to think about it, that entire experience (regardless of how short or how long; how fast or how slow) is colored by the choices we make.

  6. Just a beautiful insight Laurie. I’ll never be able to look at that dash in the same way again. I think that little dash has everything to do with the kind of mindfulness with which we ultimately live life.

  7. I read or heard someone talk about the “dash” before and it’s so true. A whole life summed up with a little tiny line. That’s probably why I don’t want one lol – just plant a tree.

  8. Hi Laurie,
    That dash hit me when we buried my mother decades ago. Haven’t thought about it until I read this awesome post. I’m with you on the downshift! 🙂

  9. Oh wow, this hit me like a cold splash on the face early in the morning (and it IS still early here in CA). Yes, yes, yes, we must take care of our dashes. Take our time, enjoy every nuance within the dash, feel the LIFE within us, until we reach the end of our dash. Thank you!!

  10. Laurie, I also walk in the cemetery and like to look at the headstones to learn a little about those who came before us. I find it very calming and spiritual. When I croak I want to be cremated and actually put back into the soil to fertilize the plants.
    I hope my dash leaves a positive impression on our world. I won’t look at the stones the same way again. Thanks for the awesome post to increase our awareness. You rock! 🙂 KC

  11. I love this. When I visit a cemetery, I always wonder what legacy these people left on earth…maybe with children, grandchildren, co-workers, or maybe neighbors. Since we are temporary…I hope to leave a decent legacy for those that follow after me.

  12. Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on how we spend our dash, additionally, how we want our headstone…..
    Imagine how creative we could be and how enlightening your visit to the cemetery would have been seeing so many perceptions of the lives lived. Here are a few examples:

    1929 !#&! 2009 – lived with anger
    1954 $$$ 😦 2022 – worried about money
    1959 🙂 + 🙂 2030 – lived joyfully
    1948 >% 2010 – lived with abundance

  13. As a graphic designer with little attention span for grammar, I always tend to forget when to use a hyphen, an en dash or an em dash, so maybe the mystery lies in the cemetery…hmmm-at least that would make it more interesting to me. I suppose your dash (when your way past 90, of course) will be the om dash. 🙂

  14. Laurie,
    A new look at the dash is always a good thing to do! Thank you.
    I have a great desire to slow down into each moment these days – the positive side is that I am liking this pace, the negative side is that I just don’t feel like writing much right now….I am working on looking with new eyes rather than reviewing the old stories

  15. To ‘dash’ through life seems an awful waste. Life should be savored. Life should be enjoyed. Life should be taken one step at a time, although there are times when a quick ‘dash’ is necessary as long as it doesn’t take up too many of our meditative minutes. 🙂

    I like the ‘plant a tree’ idea rather than a headstone. I think it was Tim Kane who mentioned this recently in one of his posts – that of all the options for dealing with our remains, this seemed the most earth-friendly option. As a writer, too, it would be like ‘giving back’ after using so many trees to create our books! 🙂

  16. In some ways I’m glad each life is but a dash mark. There are so many, many of us who have a had a turn on earth, and so many more who are still waiting for a turn. It seems as if those of us who are having a turn now shouldn’t take up too much space.

    • Heather – I agree with you. In the big scheme of things, life is but a dash, even for those who reach 100. Certainly not everyone will agree with me, but to my way of thinking, each of us gets more than one turn. And we’ll keep getting turns until we’ve learned all that we’re meant to. Glad to see you out here today, thank you for stopping by.

  17. Hi,
    The little dash is everywhere on the grave stones, even if you go back hundreds of years, they are there, you have got me thinking now on who originally decided this was the best way to put in the dates of birth and then death of a person, I hope they patented the idea. 🙂

    • Magsx2 – I imagine that carving stone is slow work. The first person to carve a dash was probably pressed for time and needed to make a mad dash for it . Oh, I crack myself up 🙂

  18. I heard a similar story a few months ago, but can’t remember where. In a way it’s sad to see life reduced to a dash, but on the other hand, the dash carries with it a lot of responsibility. Here’s to making the most of our dashes!

  19. Laurie I was by early this morning and had most a comment composed when my computer froze. So here I am hours later making a second attempt. But the Universe always has its reasons. A few minutes ago I was contacted by writer Brian D. Meeks and asked if I would read his blog chapter from today and share if I felt compelled. It is a heartbreaking true tale of courage and commitment that is now – today and tomorrow. I leave the link here for you with the hopes that it will get through And it is all about the deadly dash.

    • Terrill – Oh my goodness. THANK YOU for this link (yes, the Universe certainly knows its business)…

      Readers – Please take a few minutes to follow the link that Terrill has provided.

  20. Going rogue/philosophical on this–
    Came by this quote recently-
    Love says,”Iam everything.”
    Wisdom says,”I am nothing.”
    Between these two my life flows.
    By Indian sage Nisagradatta Maharaj

  21. What a profound thought, Laurie! I want my dash to be a succinct stand-in for a long, rich, well-enjoyed adventure through this journey called life.

  22. Two years ago I took my family to D.C. and of course we visited Arlington. Even an old vet like me was overwhelmed by the vast numbers of white marble headstones there were (over 300,000; the number changes every day). There is a special place between those two dates, a place that only men and women like these will ever know. Most of them don’t like to talk about it, even though it was a period in their lives where loyalty, bravery, and honor went far beyond what most will ever know or understand. I thank God them every day.

  23. I certainly would like slow things down, and delay that moment when I cross the finish line (I love that metaphor by the way, how apt!) but it seems I continue to find ways take on new adventures, often at a breakneck pace. Having a bunch of young kids is one reason, but there’s certainly a positive side to that equation too! Laurie I always find myself reading headstones when I am in a cemetery, and counting up the years. I even try and gage which person or couple actually lived the longest.

    A 1957 black and white ‘horror’ film with Richard Boone and Theodore Bickel called ‘I Bury the Living’ stretches the boundaries of metaphysics to create life expectancy that is subject to the reach of psychological manipulation. I know ‘horror’ cinema is not a special favorite at SPEAKING FROM THE HEART (and I completely understand that and even agree to some measure) but this low budget flick is marvelously atmospheric. In any case it might be just as smart to take a pass and watch the lovely FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (a personal favorite) which contains a deeply moving scene set in a southern cemetery.

    • SamOhhhhhhhh, thank you so much for the reminder clip! I need to get that movie from the library and enjoy it again!

      And with five young people under your roof, I can well imagine that you and Lucille are on the go, Go, GO at breakneck speed to accommodate each “please come see this,” or “please attend that” request.

      My hat’s off to you!

  24. What a profound insight, Laurie. Your expression “slower than a herd of turtles in a jar of peanut butter” made me think of my auntie – whenever we’d be scrambling to get everyone packed and into the car for a trip, when we finally started down the driveway she would announce, “We’re off! Like a herd of turtles!”

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