We see it all the time: A date, followed by a dash, followed by another date. Born in the first-mentioned year, passed away in the second-mentioned year, with everything else in between represented by that little dash.
Anyone who lives to become a “grownup” and has any amount of time invested in making their own decisions, has plenty packed into that little dash. Some of it can probably be seen as “good,” some as “bad,” and perhaps some of it can even be seen as “ugly.”
It is not for the person about whom that dash stands forth to decide how it will be interpreted, since the dash, just like “the cheese,” stands alone. It “stands” there in all its simplicity, with no frills, no fanciness, no costume or mask, and no facade. It is what it is: the representation of the span of a person’s life.
Anyone who knows the person who is now represented by that dash fills in their own details. “He was such a good person! Everybody loved him. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.” Or, “I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but he was an awful person; he cheated many out of their hard-earned money and he personally hurt his own family by flaunting other relationships in public. And I’ve even seen him kick his own dog!”
Dashes do not lie (regardless of somebody getting either of the dates wrong), but people can and do. If people will lie about us while we are alive, why wouldn’t they continue that behavior and lie about us after we’re gone? At that time, of course, we cannot defend ourselves or answer our accusers. And that is the great thing for those who like to expound on the dash in their own way, to their own advantage. Think anyone who might be on trial for murder, how they might fill in the blanks regarding the very person they killed. No doubt there would have to be something in that commentary that makes the person look justified in committing the murder. Think anyone who is left behind holding “the bag” of their own filling. No doubt the bag-holder would have to justify its contents by casting aspersions on the one who can no longer dispute the story or the facts. It can become very ugly to open such “bags” to the public, and very sad for the family of the deceased to deal with how others will view his or her dash.
We are all in control of our own dashes while we are yet alive. We can make the best decisions under our own particular circumstances, considering all things, but that is all we can do. We cannot always make the absolute best choice, since often circumstances intervene to prevent that, but we can always make the best of the choices available to us. After we’re gone, however, we are not in any kind of control at all as to how others will interpret our dash.
Many of us have been raised to not speak ill of the dead, yet let’s be realistic. Death itself does not in any way make a person any better than he was prior to that event. We take to that moment (the moment of death) all that we have become ever since we started making decisions about who and what we would be in life, whether we consciously tune in to that awareness or not. And if anyone needs to speak of us after we’re gone, they can only speak of us truthfully from their own experience. Thank goodness none of us have been given the job – aside from the lawful and requested judgment that some of us must render when summoned to court as a juror – of judging our friends, relatives or neighbors and defining their place in the universe based on that judgment. That, thank God, has been left to a very appropriate and higher power. Yet we still in some way judge what we see and “know” when we call it “good,” “bad,” or “ugly” – at least according to our, or to any person’s, sense of right and wrong, normal or bizarre, acceptable or unacceptable, behavior. And that judging that we might all do includes judging those we don’t even know. It’s no surprise that many people choose to check out of this life due to overwhelming pressure, stress, sorrow or pain. Entertainers do it far too regularly; “ordinary” people do it all the time. And strangers then proceed to judge them and surmise their reasons. But it’s no surprise that many of those left behind choose to expound upon the new dash with which they now have to deal, in their own way, whether or not how they interpret it matches anything resembling reality.
Why might any of this be meaningful at this particular time? Aside from the point that we will all be faced with our own dash some day–some sooner than others–there is someone in my life right now as I write these words who will be collecting her dash very soon, and someone else in my life who chose to grab for her own dash this past Saturday.
I am always glad that I don’t have to predict the “whens” and “wherefores” of anyone who is losing her battle with all the health challenges that life has seen fit to bestow upon her, nor have to suggest or presume the reasons behind someone’s choice to pull their own plug; yet others in our life may take it upon themselves to predict and presume many things for and about us. The good news is that if we really reflect on the dash in our own life (care enough about it) and think about how we will be remembered, we’ll likely have people remember at least some of what we’ll call the “good.”
Consider that dash: Will people say you were so selfish you never cared about anyone but yourself? Will those you thought were your friends focus on how you weren’t there when they needed you? Will even your own family remember how you turned your back on them in their hour of need? Or will most people remember that you were tuned in to their pain and suffering and stress and were willing to lend an ear, lend a hand, lend that needed $10, ten minutes, or even 10 days to help them through that untenable situation that could have been a life-changing time?
We may not want to be judged while still alive – believing no one can possibly know all that has gone into our current state of affairs, even though we are being judged nonetheless by anyone who feels hurt, slighted, offended, betrayed, or in any way affected by our presence in their life – yet we can be sure that once there is no longer any chance for us to change anyone’s perception of us, we will leave a lingering thought-feeling of who we were in the minds and hearts of those we leave behind.
Let’s all try to make that dash of ours worth remembering!
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.