The Most Important Thing on a Tombstone is the Dash

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomLinda Ellis (72) started writing as a child. She left the corporate world after a long career to become a full-time poet. Although she was not well-known, in 1994, the host of a syndicated radio show read one of her early poems titled “The Dash.” The inspirational poem truly resonated with listeners and became an instant classic, shared around the world. The poem inspired several books, including The Dash: Making a Difference with Your Life (2017),” which has sold over a million copies, and Live Your Dash: Make Every Moment Matter (2014). The message of the poem is that what matters most in life is not how long you have lived (on a tombstone that is represented by the date of birth and date of death), but rather how you spent your life (represented by the dash, or hyphen, between the dates). Expressed another way: the most important thing on your tombstone is the dash, it’s what you did while you were here. In short, the poem asks us: did you make every moment and relationship count? 

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 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 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?

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For further reading: Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
Read related posts: Letters to a Young Poet
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight

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