The Dash

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agathe cleveland

When I was in high school Economics class one day, I turned the page of my book to find a profile of a woman in business. She had the traditional spelling of my maiden name, Getskow, which is pretty unusual. If you know a Getskow, you probably know someone in my family. I was intrigued. I wrote the publisher and eventually received a letter from her husband. He was into genealogy and was able to report that our great-great grandfathers were brothers or cousins or something.

That exchange of letters sparked my own interest to know who I was related to, where they were from, and when they lived. I spent the bulk of my summer between high school and college trying to unearth every family tree that I was on. Please note this was long before the days of the internet so it required mailing letters, requesting (and paying for) death certificates, and even traveling to Minnesota to visit with city registrars as well as elderly relatives.

Eventually, I became a little disenchanted with the experience. Sure, I could figure out where my great-great-grandfather was born. I could trace my family on one side all the way back to the Revolutionary War where my ancestors were named after heroes: George Washington Fauver, for instance. I even found a family tree that dated my Norwegian family all the way back to the year 800.

However, all I had were a bunch of names and dates. Kari Johannesdatter 1605 – 1643 didn’t do me a whole lot of good if I couldn’t know what she was like. If I didn’t have a letter or a story or a relationship with the person, well, it left me empty.

Knowing who they were wasn’t the same as knowing them.

borge cousins

It reminds me of an illustration my husband told me a few weeks ago. He heard it on the radio, and couldn’t remember the source. I’m paraphrasing here.

1605 and 1643 are just dates. Dates when someone was born and when someone died. Dates aren’t so important. The dash is what’s important.

The dash is what’s important.

The dash is when Kari Johannesdatter  lived. When she loved. When she made mistakes and tried to fix them. When she married, had babies, or lost a loved one.

When we are born and when we die are irrelevant in light of how we live. How we love. How we cram all the good we can into that dash.

Let’s live lives so that our children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews know us. Let them know us. Let’s live on purpose. Let’s love on purpose. Let’s make the most of these lives we’ve been given.

Let’s live and love and cram as much good things into the dash.

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  1. There’s a poem called The Dash by Linda Ellis about living your dash to the fullest.

  2. Interesting that you wrote this. I just heard a poem called “The Dash” at a funeral last month, and it was beautiful. I have it on my list to look up because I don’t know the author. But it was exactly what you are talking about.

  3. Very good precise description of the dash between our birth date and our final date. Life seems long as it is happening but looking back to our youth once we are older it seems just a blink of where did it go.

    I must read that whole poem again and thanks for your post which described the lesson so well.

    Alexa from Sydney, Australia