(I started writing this in 2007. It's now 2020. I hope I didn't rush things)
As a noun, it’s just a little line. As a verb, you hurry through a moment. Those two kinds of dashes are related in a way that I consider almost tragic.
Most people don’t think of the dash as anything except a small, insignificant little line.
And yet, it represents the most important thing ever known to man.
I’m always blown away at the dichotomy between its insignificance and importance.
Take a stroll through any cemetery and look at the gravestones. Old, new, large and small, they all have a few things in common. Those gravestones each represent a real person, and stand silent sentry over the fallen for time eternal.
And for each person the stones represent, there was a moment in time when that person was born, and a moment in time when they died. The date of birth and the date of death. Every stone has one of each. And those two moments in time are always separated by a dash. The date of birth, the dash, and the date of death.
But that line between those two dates is so much more than just a small dash. We look at it and never think about it. We see it, but it doesn’t register, because it’s just there to separate the date of birth and date of death. And yet, of those three elements, it is the dash, that by far represents the most significance.
The date of birth represents when it all started.
The date of death represents when it all ended.
But the dash represents “it”. That one individual’s entire lifespan. Everything that person did, everything that person said, is in that dash. All the feelings of hate, love, joy and pain, all the emotions, laughter, tears and friendships, all the adrenaline rushes, moments of contemplation, moments of frustration, and accomplishments, are in that one, single, small straight line. Imagine if you could look through a magnifying glass at the dash on a gravestone, and see a tiny movie of all the moments in that person’s life. That’s what the dash is.
It represents everything in between the date of birth and the date of death. Everything significant about a person’s life is in that little line.
I just find it bizarrely amazing that something so significant is the one thing that’s almost always completely glossed over unnoticed.
The dash is so significant because life is so significant.
Therefore, I find it tragically ironic that we, as humans, always seem to be dashing through our dash.
Here we have all that is laid before us, our most significant gift and opportunity, all wrapped up in one extremely critical package… our life, …our dash, and all we can do is run through the highlights. One of the most important and critical things to stop and be aware of, and all we can do is purposely skip most of it. Our dash through our dash.
We each get this huge opportunity to live a miracle, an absolutely amazing confluence of everything that had to happen to make life as we know it. All the little things in life that are so interrelated… the food chain, our ecosystem, how we all interact with each other. It’s very near freakishly amazing when you think about it. We have this opportunity to live this miracle, where a huge variety of every day things can smell and look so good, so many things can be funny or beautiful or emotionally rewarding. So many fantastic things to realize and find each day, like a child’s laughter, how flowers open and close with sunlight, how wonderful a bakery smells, or how cool it is that things that need shade just seem to grow under things that give shade. You could move through your everyday life and if you really paid attention, come up with 20 positive things that happened before you even hit lunch. And you could do this every day.
But we don’t do that. We dash through our dash, in what may be the biggest waste of an opportunity ever known to mankind.
I was having a conversation with a well respected martial arts instructor once. We were talking about living in the moment. Of being aware of where and when you are, in that very moment without regard to the past or future. Of being aware and experiencing as much of what is happening around you as possible.
I’m not talking about physically slowing down to “smell the roses”. Living in the moment doesn’t mean that you can’t plan your future or accomplish what you want to accomplish. It simply means to be more aware of what is happening around you.
He explained it in a way that helped me immediately understand. He held up his hand and pointed to the tips of his spread fingers. Throughout your day, you're always jumping from one tip to the other. You get up and you're immediately thinking about breakfast. At breakfast, you're thinking about work. At work, you're thinking about the things you need to do during lunch. After lunch, you're thinking about when you get off from work. And on it goes.
But what we're missing, is all the space in between those finger tips. The journey down one finger and up another. The flowers, the smell of newly cut grass, a child's laughter, the way a ray of sunlight shoots through the clouds, the opportunity to compliment someone. It's easy to count the significant things that happen during a day... good and bad. There’s not that many of them. Sometimes, your tally comes up negative, sometimes it’s positive. But if you stop and really notice the little things that go by with hardly any notice, it's so easy to overwhelm your life with positives. Every day. You just have to look between the fingertips.
At first, if you’re not used to thinking this way, it’s not easy. You might have to remind yourself to look for those little things that happen all around you. It may take a while, but overwhelming your life with positive things is one of the huge rewards of becoming more aware. It can make a meaningful and profound difference.
But the real reward to slowing down and living in the moment, to noticing your surroundings and being more aware of the people and life around you, is in the act itself. It’s your life. You only have this one chance. You give yourself the opportunity to realize how very cool and almost miraculous some of the things that happen around you every day are.
It’s mental. It’s emotional. To be more aware of your life, and life around you. To not jump from one tip to the next, without pausing to see what’s between the fingers. The tips are so small. Down one finger and up another is so long in comparison. We miss so much of life when we jump from one highlight to the next, without mentally and emotionally pausing to enjoy the miraculous journey we’re all on.
We’re all going to end up with some kind of dash between the dates someday. It’s inevitable. That insignificant little line will represent your entire life and all you’ve accomplished. And once you reach that second date, there’s no changing anything about what the dash means. There’s no going back.
You’ll live through your entire dash, of course. But how much of it will you experience?
David S. Chorney
This is where I'm supposed to write something about myself. I still have some hair left. I am still undecided which I like better, photography or painting. My four major food group are seafood, melted cheese, pasta, and Advil. I love the hunt of a finished piece of art. All quotes, essays, stories, and any other written piece on this website, are original and written by yours truly, unless otherwise noted.