Today, October 17, the day when the U.S. population reached 300 million, and what would have been my daughter Kolleen’s 19th birthday causes me to reflect on what it all means.
It’s not the 300 million figure that impresses me most. It’s the fact that each of those 300 million people is an individual who, through the course of their lives, will, in some way, touch the lives of the more than 6 billion individuals on the planet.
When Kolleen passed away earlier this year, I was deeply moved at her visitation and funeral by all the friends, family, and acquaintances who showed up to grieve her loss and celebrate her life. I realized that although Kolleen was no longer with us in body, her spirit continued to thrive in those who knew her and loved her. They shared their stories of Kolleen with me and my family—my wife Kathleen, and Kolleen’s siblings Kyle and Kaleigh.
Recently, I picked up a copy of The Dash, based on the poem “The Dash,” by Linda Ellis. (You can view The Dash Movie online by clicking here.) In the poem, Ellis describes a man speaking at the funeral of a dear friend. Referring to the dates on her tombstone, he notes that what’s most important about those dates is not the birth date or the date of her death, but the dash between those years. The man goes on to say that in the end, what we own, what we achieve materially is of little consequence. What’s important is “How we spend our dash.”
The Dash constantly reminds me of the importance of connecting with others every day of my life, especially in a world in which technology is making communications increasingly less personal. When we connect with others, as Kolleen did throughout her short life, the dash becomes much less of a line between two dates. It becomes an ever expanding series of circles that ripple out, touching the lives of many others.
On this day, I realize that Kolleen’s dash didn’t end on the day she died. Because she touched so many people in so many positive ways, she made her dash eternal.
I wonder about that 300 millionth U.S. citizen born today. What will that tiny baby’s dash ultimately represent? How will he or she affect the lives of others? How will that person’s life ultimately touch me?