I’m sure that at some point in our lives, we imagined what death is probably like, maybe wondered what’s there beyond. It’s normal to come across such an idea especially now, with the drastic impact this COVID-19 pandemic brought upon us.
I found a poem by Linda Ellis written in 1996 entitled “The Dash”. The first few stanzas go,
“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
I have never forgotten that poem since and it crossed my mind all the more now with this situation.
Let us face it. We are in the midst of a crisis that hindered us from doing what we used to do. It is even tragic as death rates keep piling up day by day around the world, imposing a heavy burden, pulling our spirits down and draining our hopes.
In all honesty, this pandemic has put our lives into perspective. While it gave us this hollow feeling in our stomachs as we despair, it contrastingly brought about positive changes.
We are beginning to re-evaluate various aspects of our living. Many are trying to learn the simplest life skills which they never thought would be essential. Some are trying to unlearn the bad habits they have developed over time. Most of us are relearning the most crucial principles which we have forgotten to live by.
All the time, we say change is the only thing constant in this world, but only now did its concept sink in, only now did we open our eyes to the reality that there is nothing permanent in this world. We cannot deny how this Covid-19 pandemic severely affected and will continue to affect our economy, from the smallest unit of our community out to the large-scale society. Our routines have changed more than we can handle, from our school and work set-ups to our day-to-day schedule.
Amidst the velocity of technological advancement, social networking sites have been in use by all possible means. But we also tend to confuse virtual connections and real relationships. We used to gather our friends to have some “bonding time” but despite our physical presence, we are miles apart from each other as we space out focusing on what’s on our phones. Now that we are actually miles apart from most of the people we know, care about, and love, we regret not having spent real quality time with them; we regret not having paid attention —real attention.
It had to come to this before we finally use social media to bond for real and not in a mere virtual sense. We reflect on how we so casually said our “Hey, what’s up” and “Catch you later” just over a month ago, not realizing that it might be the last time that we get to say it in person —and mean it.
On Our Attitude
We used to be so full of pride, thinking we can handle everything on our own. But this pandemic is crippling everyone, and it knows no status, no gender, no race, no age. Then we realize there are no exemptions; nobody is immune. We swallow our pride as we come to terms with that fact: the fact that we need to acknowledge that we all need help. We then understand that in this spectrum of survival, there are no extremes; that we must each do our part so as to transcend this situation.
On Our Environment
We were so greedy then that we thought only of ourselves and were not conscious of how we are damaging our own environment. Now, scientists have observed a significant decline in pollution levels in our ecosystem.
On Our Mindset
We neglected a lot of privileges back then. We thought these worldly luxuries would exist forever to the point that it defined us. We nearly rely on it so much that we forgot how to find joy, contentment, fulfillment, and beauty in the simple things in life. With recreational centers, malls, fast-food chains, and restaurants closed down, we remembered that we can prepare our own food with available resources, make our own coffee, and do those things while spending time with our families. We are now relearning how to simplify our lives and make it more meaningful.
We worry a lot. We wrestle with different problems. Now, we have found a way to deal with them by channeling our sense of humor. We get to cope with the situation by getting our creative juices flowing, and with that, we learned that we can entertain ourselves that way.
We used to have this limiting belief about ourselves wherein we undermine our capabilities. Now, we have discovered our potential and that there are things we can do, and so we begin appreciating ourselves and others.
Yes, we made lots of realizations, and there are plenty more to come. Undoubtedly though, this incident does stir up various emotions as well.
It’s sad that these all had to dawn on us under these circumstances, that it had to come to this before any change could happen. It’s frightening to think of the possibility that not everyone may survive in the end. It’s dreadful to imagine how probable it is for anyone of us to be afflicted with the disease, no matter how unlikely we think its occurrence is.
It’s frustrating to see people take advantage of the crisis with all their greed hoarding resources or spreading fake news. It is very infuriating to learn of people who, to quote a friend, have this “pathological sense of entitlement” thinking that their position or title gives them the leeway to violate rules that are meant for everybody’s protection.
So what was my point in bringing up Linda Ellis’ poem? It is simple. Death is inevitable. It may come at us slowly, or take us by surprise. Nevertheless, between our birthdate and death date remains that tiny dash representing all the years we spent in this world. As reflected in the poem, it is a very precise reminder of how short life is. No matter who you are, regardless of your socio-economic status, your gender, your ethnicity, your achievements, everything boils down to one thing, that which will define us: How do you decide to live your dash?
I’m hoping that we all take a moment to ponder. We never know when and how we might die, but one thing is for sure: to describe death in this period due to the virus as “sad” is an understatement for there can’t be ceremonies, last goodbyes, or any form of contact at the very least; words wouldn’t be enough to express how painful death in these times would be. So while we each are still within our life’s dash-lines, let’s take the time to appreciate the little things, express our gratitude to those who matter to us, and express our affection to those who mean a lot to us. Let’s do it while we can. Let’s make our dash meaningful.