Yesterday, I drove from Dallas to Houston to attend the funeral of my dear friend’s mother. I had only met Ms. Shirley a couple times but I knew her through her daughter, my friend of seventeen years. I knew her through her legacy of her children, and grandchildren; their compassion and yet strong character, their will to succeed as humans and as citizens in a society that can be flawed and heartless at times.
The ministers announced that we were there to celebrate Ms. Shirley and her life. And it truly felt like a celebration.
All those who came to speak, knew Ms. Shirley personally. They referenced, “It takes a village” and said Ms. Shirley had a devotion to her “village” which included not only her kids, but her extended family; nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and even those in her community. Two people from the neighborhood stood up to speak on behalf of the neighbors. One woman, a childhood friend of Ms. Shirley’s daughter, who grew up in the neighborhood, shared that Ms. Shirley often times led that village. Ms. Shirley looked out for her neighbors and was there for the kids in her community. She always had food to share, an ear to listen, and a home that kids could visit and feel safe. She was the neighborhood friend, mother, or grandmother that helped keep her community strong. The woman then expressed her gratitude to Ms. Shirley and asked all those villagers from the neighborhood to stand, which they did so proudly.
The minister referenced “the dash”. He asked if we all knew what the dash meant and then went on to explain. On our tombstone, we have a date of birth. Then we have a date of death. The dash between those two dates represent all the time we spend in between life and death.
Ms. Shirley, who married, had six children, was widowed, and became a single working mother, was still able to find food, time, and money for not only her family, but also for her village. Her nephew declared that her faith carried her through difficult times. Then he joked how Ms. Shirley sometimes would say that the younger generation didn’t know how to stretch a dollar. As a single mother myself. I could appreciate that. Although, I only had two mouths to feed, mine and my son’s, I still understood what it meant to be on your own and how to make a dollar stretch.
As I sat there in the pew, I heard one minister say how Ms. Shirley would not come back for anything in the world because she was at home, in peace with her father in heaven. While I do mostly agree, in my ear, I heard her say that she would give one more day to be with her kids. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms. Shirley whispered this in my ear so I could share her words with her children. And what loving mother wouldn’t give to have one more day with her kids. Being a mother myself, given the chance, I would. And no doubt in my mind, that Ms. Shirley would also.
As mothers, we try to impart our wisdom, our teachings, and our lessons to our kids so that we can prepare them for their future. Our legacy is not only in their genes, but in our words spoken to them and in their childhood experiences and memories. Every moment we spend nurturing our children carries on to future generations.
The same is true for those in our community. Our kids are paying attention. I remember on two different occasions my sons acknowledging me for something I did for another person, a random act of kindness. Afterwards, they said, “That was really nice of you”. Funny, because I don’t remember what I did, but I remember their response. It touched me greatly. I thought to myself, these are lessons I want my sons to remember. No doubt, that Ms. Shirley’s children were impacted by her generosity and outreach in her community. I know that my friend, her daughter, is one of the most generous and giving persons I know and I feel truly blessed to call her friend.
In a world where we hear too often about mass shootings, hatred, bigotry, and divisive opinions, it is so refreshing to hear about one woman who loved her family and her community and how that community grew, bonded and became stronger because of her.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass
The Dash Poem, by Linda Ellis
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning…to the end
He noted that first came the date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years
For that dash represents all the time
That they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
Know what that little line is worth
For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while
So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?