Life Inside the Dash: Living Fully and Chasing Your Dreams

I accompanied a friend to a funeral recently. I didn’t know the deceased but I believe I was brought along due to my overactive empathy gene combined with the fact that I have broad shoulders — perfect for leaning on during times of emotional crisis.

The service concluded in the mausoleum with the gripping words of the clergy. OK, maybe not that gripping. Having a creative, post chemo brain, my mind began to wonder. I was in the middle of deep thoughts that included putting half-and-half on my grocery list when my eyes began searching the tomb markers. I was surprised to find a few names I knew. Some names had a birth date, dash and a date of death, while others just had a person’s “starting point”; a dash and an empty space waiting for numbers to signify the end of life.

At that moment it hit me. Although everyone’s start and end point varied, the dash remained consistent and precisely the same. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. What happens in that dash is crucial and what is remembered. While the pastor moved from eulogizing to saving the rest of our sorry souls, I moved from to-do lists to thoughts of improving “life inside the dash”.

“I’ll get to that someday” needs to be removed from our vocabulary along with the ever famous and defeating “What if”. Take it from a cancer survivor.

“Someday” is never a guarantee. What if we could replace “What if” with “What’s possible”? I know life can get crazy and hectic no matter what stage of “dash living” you are currently in. However, being surrounded by expiration dates rejuvenated my resolve. Even if I have to put my hopes and dreams on the back burner, I can still be simmering.

My friends who live near our Canadian cabin, Pete and Bernie (short for Bernadette) recently took an action step toward their life-long dream. I have known Pete since I was a toddler. As long as I can remember, Pete has always wanted to live in a log home and Bernie put “log home ownership” on her wish list when she said “I do” a quarter of a century ago.

Last year, Pete and I were relaxing on the dock when he informed me he was about to do something a tad unconventional since, as he put it, “I’m tired of waiting for someday”. He cleared an area on his property and mapped out their dream to show “the Big GUY” that they were serious.

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Pete and Bernie building their dream log home.

Months later, Pete was at a café in Ottawa and struck up a conversation with a local who happened to be a building instructor for a community college specializing in… you guessed it. The end result is that Pete and Bernie ended up hosting students from all over the world as they built the frame of their future home as a class project. They are now five years ahead of schedule and as an extra bonus, Pete learned the fine art of opening a bottle of Molson with a chainsaw from one of the students from Finland.

Another pondering that crossed my mind to enhance “life in the dash” is to LET GO. I have lived through misplaced loyalties, miscarriages, and missed opportunities. It’s tough to give up the past and I’m guilty of keeping a tight grip at times even to things that others would think trivial.

It took me years to forgive my parents for deceiving me into believing that my pet rat Barnaby (that I won for being the top science student in the seventh grade) died of natural causes. Apparently, our dachshund got a hold of him. I heard them retelling the tale (no pun intended) at a party of how my poor father had to sweep up rat bits. Regardless, I must remember that when I cling to past hurts, my hands cannot reach out and open to new experiences.

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Standing on Maple Lake

A final thought crossed my mind in the mausoleum before I was jolted back to the moment with the words, “lunch will be served”. When I was diagnosed, I took having a “Bucket List” seriously. Since that time I have returned to Rome, took a yoga class in less than flattering attire and braved a Canadian winter at our cabin without running water or heat (not to mention tinkling in -4 degrees) to stand on Maple Lake.

The jury is out on whether I’m excited that my children are following my example. My 21-year-old who is currently studying abroad in Australia recently parachuted out of a plane. I EXPLICITLY asked her not to swim in anything but a pool (Americans are statistically more prone to get eaten. Not because we taste better but we tend not to read warning signs) or do anything that falls under the category of “crazy”.  I LET IT GO after hearing her tell me how empowering the experience was. Plus, the fact that as she said, “You started it”.

I did “start” on a definite date in April and I have no idea when it will end. I do know this: Before I get an “expiration” date, that even with uncertain outcomes, I’m going to take action steps toward my dreams, let go, and enjoy every possible moment of “life inside the dash”.

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