What fills your dashes?

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First Posted: 12/2/2014

Last week, an old friend passed away. We hadn’t been in touch for several years, but when I heard of her death, it was like a baseball bat to the kneecaps. I literally doubled over.

It scares me to realize I recognize more names in the obituaries than I do in the sports section these days. I’m at that point in life where I’m reluctantly admitting we don’t go on forever; there really is an expiration date stamped on all of our lids.

There’s a poem about death that speaks of the dash placed in between your date of birth and your date of death. It’s not the dates we should pay attention to, but the dashes; what comes between those dates. With what redeeming acts have we filled our days? Have we lived our lives to full capacity or have we lived them only halfway?

I wonder – usually at night when I can’t sleep because I’m having a hot flash– have I been a good enough person in this life? Who will come to my memorial service? What if no one shows up? Will we have to offer free cocktails and gift cards to Dunkin’ Donuts in order to draw a big enough crowd? I wonder.

I know I was a much nice person when I was younger. I’m not certain when, but I lost my filter somewhere between delivering my third child and losing my boobs. I just don’t seem to mince words as well as I used to. When I die, will anyone remember me as a loving and compassionate human being or will they remember that one time I told them they shouldn’t have gotten that bad perm? Will my friends cry when I go or will they be secretly relieved that I won’t judge their shoe choices any longer?

I chant a little prayer each night that always ends with: “…please help me be a better person.” And I totally mean it. In that moment. But then I wake up the next morning and forget that holy request and yell at my husband because he took the newspaper before I read Dear Abby. (I can’t start my day without Metamucil, three cups of coffee, a bagel and Dear Abby). Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.

I want my dashes to be filled with memories of a person who always tried to do the right thing. I want my kids to say they almost always liked me and I actually was a pretty good mother. More than half the time. If I die before my husband -and chances are I will because he’s the one with the sky-high cholesterol but I’m the one with the bad luck – I want him to miss me and remember me lovingly and not acquire a younger girlfriend. And I want my friends to think back to the times I commiserated with their tears and was loyal to the bitter end, not the times I critiqued their creepy boyfriends.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: let’s try to intersperse our days with accidental bursts of kindness.

More empathy and benevolence. Less judgment and anger.

Because no one will remember the inconsequential and the petty once you’re gone. But they will remember the love. Plain and simple. Make your dash count.