Life in the Dash

“When you walk through the graveyard, look at the dates on the tombstones. What you see is the date someone was born, a dash, and the date they died. Their whole life was lived in that dash.” -MN Adult and Teen Challenge Director – Brainerd, MN Campus

The words hit me like a brick. In the end, our life is depicted by nothing more than a dash in a block of stone. A year, or 100, the dash is the same size. Clarence and I attended a service at our church a few weeks ago and instead of our regular service we heard stories and listened to songs performed by a group of men from MN Adult and Teen Challenge. Their stories were heartfelt and sincere. I and many others wiped tears from our eyes repeatedly. It was almost impossible not to be touched by the stories these men told about their lives and their struggles to overcome addiction. Lives of abuse and torment for some, and for others, of loving homes and supportive families they constantly felt they were disappointing. Several of the family members of these gentlemen attended the service as a show of support and a chance to be with their son/brother/husband. It was beautiful, not because they had perfect pitch and incredible harmonies in their music, they didn’t. Their beauty was in the rawness in which they spoke about their lives, their struggles, and their continued storyline with addiction, with their life. While they spoke about their struggles with addiction, the focus was not on addiction, it was on the story of their lives and the life they envisioned and aspired to create for themselves going forward. Strength, character, and perseverance all displayed in these men that ranged in age from 22 to 70. Some were local, others came from out of the area to have a new beginning in a brand new environment and get away from some of their old patterns. All of them committed to making something different from what will be their “dash”. I sat with my heart in my hands and prayed to Spirit to give them what they needed to free themselves from the grip of self-doubt and find themselves as the gift that they are to this world.

It’s so easy for us to assume we’ll have another day, more time, a “someday” better than where we’re at right now. I remember when I was living as a single Mom, a mortgage, a small practice, working my ass off to get bills paid, and kept thinking of the “someday” when maybe it would be different. Flowing in and out of that “someday it won’t be this hard” was my wonderment of how fortunate I was to have the resources I did have; even in a recession I still was able to pay the bills, my son was healthy and well, we went on inexpensive trips but we still traveled some, we ate healthy food, we played and laughed, we tried new things, he was in activities as he wanted them. Really, we never went without anything. I was blessed, even though I was stressed and had to pay really, really close attention to the bottom line. I always knew I was held by Spirit. Even with that said, it was hard to not wish it away. There were so many times I was on my knees in fear and prayer. It was difficult to stand where I was in discomfort and not want to get to the other side of it, to wish and dream and pray and hope for a time when I would have my life. Really, I was waiting to have the life that I wanted instead of the life I had. I didn’t realize it was all my life.

My life was happening through it all. That was my life. Even when we’re uncomfortable, stressed, worried, waiting, that too is our life, and at the end of the day, it is the only thing that really even belongs to us. We buy and sell clothes, cars, houses, we move to different cities. We change hobbies, interests, jobs, and friends. Family moves and changes. Our experiences, our now is truly the only thing we ever really have that is ours.

Christian was supposed to have surgery a couple of weeks ago. Let’s back up. Last November, Thanksgiving Day to be precise, Christian came to me while I was packing to leave for the cabin, and told me he was thinking of joining the Navy. My heart dropped out of my shoes. We talked about what a huge commitment this was and I asked him to give it six months and if at the end of six months he still wanted to join the Navy, I would support him 100%. I left for the cabin for the weekend and cried for the next 3 days.

Fast forward six months when Christian went through his physical to join the Navy (nope, he didn’t change his mind) and a hernia were discovered. The Navy is not about to take a sailor with a hernia and insisted it is fixed. He’d have to wait three months after surgery before they would allow him into basic training. Two days after his physical, he developed Mono. It took two months for his body to be well enough to set a surgical date, which was another month out from there. He was so far beyond his six months, and he was more than a little frustrated.

We were all geared up and ready to go on the day of surgery. We arrive at the hospital, checked in, he got his gowned and put on those funky yellow socks with the grippy bottoms, the nurse came in for his pre-op check-up – issues. He has an elevated heart rate and temperature. They talked about it, checked his temp again, 101.03, worse than before. “You’re coming down with something, and we can’t take the chance,” said the anesthesiologist. Surgery was canceled.

As I sat and watched my man-boy wipe tears out of his eyes, his frustration so palpable, my heart broke. “I just want to get on with my life” came his words. With all the love in my heart, I whispered, “This is your life”. His look of disappointment was so crystal clear. It was not what he wanted to hear, and yet, it was so true.

Our life is not just the good parts, the glory moments, the times when everything is right in our world and we feel ourselves on the top of the mountain. Life is constant until we die. It’s the good, yes, but it’s the bad and the ugly, too. Life is happening when we’re in the struggles when we’re tired when the baby hasn’t slept through the night yet, when our aging parents need constant attention when our co-workers are out to get us, when there is cancer, and anxiety and depression and pain. When great friends and family members pass away and leave us when Mr. or Ms. Right is still a dream that feels like we’ll never find them. Life is all of it. In all the spaces we find ourselves waiting for our life, remember, you’re in it.

The struggles make the success greater, the mountain views more majestic, the love more appreciated and valued, so we remember to take good care of it. Babies become children who grow up and move away to have their own lives, loved ones leave and what’s left is our memories of those moments we wished away.

Please, I beg you, don’t. Don’t wish them away. Sometimes it is painful to be present to the moment and we are glad when it passes, and that’s real. But remember, it is your life. You are a perfect and unique Soul and no one ever, ever again is going to be the filter for your experiences the way that you are right now. You are a gift, and while deserving the best, you’ll never know the best when it shows up if you never felt the struggles.

We have one chance at this life. Let’s live it. Let’s challenge ourselves to be present, to feel it, to experience it, to be in it. The right, the wrong, the good the bad, and the blah. It’s all ours and it all develops into what becomes “us”.

The dates on the tombstone are the easy part. The good stuff, the real stuff, is immortalized in that dash. Fill it up.

Blessings Galore, Anne

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