What Will The Hy-phen of Our Lives Mean


 “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?  And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”  Rabbi Hillel, born 1st century BCE

Although this may sound macabre to some when I lived in the UK I loved to visit churchyards and wander about looking at the inscriptions on the graves.  It was fascinating how you could glean the history of families that once were but were no longer.  For instance I could tell by the death dates of the children which families had lived during epidemics of typhoid, small pox and plagues.  From those dates I’d also know during which periods of time those fatal diseases had swept through whatever village or town I was visiting.

I could also tell the men who had lost first wives (often in childbirth) and remarried because in a lot of instances both women were buried with their man.  And often I could tell the men and women had lost their lives to war and which war it was.

However, the suppositions and guess work I drew from the dates of the tombstones was all that I could tell about the lives of those individuals who had lived years, decades and even centuries before.

The only thing I knew for sure was when they were born and when they died.  I really had no idea what had gone on between their birth and death.  What their dreams, their goals and aspirations, their grand passions, their day-to-day existence, their legacy had been.  Or how they had walked the planet and what meaning they’d placed on and given to life?  The dynamics of their lives, the space and time between when they were born and when they died was simply represented by the small and often illegible hyphen or dash between those dates.

I remember sitting beneath the lushness of a sprawling ancient oak, somewhere in the heart of Derbyshire, after visiting a churchyard and reflecting on what the hyphen between my date of birth and death would mean or more specifically what meaning I would give it.

What’s important isn’t when we enter or exit our life.  It’s the vibrant expression of our life, the bit in the middle that’s abbreviated by the dash on our tombstones or crypts.

So the question I ask is this:  Will that simple dash be coloured with passion, purpose, meaning, and enthusiasm or will it be painted with monochromatic shades of getting by and the status quo.

Each of us comes into this world to shine our own particular expressive light.  No one else can live life as we can because they’re simply not us.  We have a responsibility to shine our light as brightly as we can, to live life as only we can live it.

Our brightness, fully expressed acts as a beacon for others.  So I invite us all to live our passions and dreams with meaningful purpose and enthusiasm.

The questions I remind myself of when it would be easier to sink into the woodwork of mediocrity rather than taking the focused time and energy to shine my light as brilliantly as I might are these:

If not now when?

If not me who?


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