Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Dash

Steve Jobs' early childhood home in San Francisco

"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 lived your dash?" - from Linda Ellis' poem "The Dash"

One of my favorite museums is the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.  The gallery contains hundreds, if not thousands, of portraits of mainly famous Americans from the last 400 years.  The portraits are photographs, paintings, and drawings that include a brief description of who the person is and the years that he or she was born and died.  The first time I visited the museum I enjoyed the portraits but I was more impacted by the dates of life and death, the dash, that was included on everyone's plaque.  Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865),  Johnny Carson (1925-2005),  Helen Keller (1880-1968).  Lucille Ball (1911-1989),  Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968).

I have thought about the Portrait Gallery and the dash as I have "pilgrimaged" to Assisi and Silicon Valley the last four weeks.  I have visited the sites where St. Francis (1181-1226), St. Clare (1194-1253) and Steve Jobs (1955-2011) were born and died and I have returned to where I, Don Southworth (1958-?) was born and raised.  (See the picture below.)

Most of us won't have our portraits hung one day in the Smithsonian or be listed on Wikipedia with the dates of our birth and death.  Very few people will travel to the places we were born or the the places we will die.  And yet our dashes, our lives are just as important as those famous people...and just as unique.

I'm always struck when I visit the portrait gallery, or cemeteries (another favorite place of mine) that while we all know the year we are born none of us know the final date that will follow the dash.  Would we change the way we lived our lives if we did?  One of the most popular classes I led when I was serving as a parish minister was titled, A Year to Live.  The class was based on a book of the same name written by Stephen Levine.  We began by setting the "pretend" date for our death one year from the beginning of the class.  We met once a month and worked on the practical and spiritual aspects of preparing for death so that we could live more meaningful and fulfilling lives.  

The class was a transforming experience for most people and always was for me.  It's easy to talk about how precious life is but when we are forced to face our mortality - whether in a class or more powerfully, by life and a loved one's illness or death - we realize at a deeper level how sacred, and how brief, our time on earth truly is.

St. Francis, St. Clare and Steve Jobs are three people whose lives inspire me to craft and manage a life of innovation, spirit and service - of calltrepreneurship.  In my travels the last few weeks I have met many others whose life stories have done the same.  When I began this pilgrimage I knew I wanted to explore the intersection of spirituality/religion and business/entrepreneurship and I knew it was a trip about going home.  Home to Italy and home to California, obviously, but maybe too about home as the number following my dash.  

"So when your eulogy is being read...would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?"  Isn't it both comforting and sobering to know that we are still working on our dash?  And that we have so many people, both living and dead, to coach, guide and inspire us as we do?   Thank you so much for joining me on this pilgrimage month and I hope you'll stay around as we continue to explore living the calltrepreneurs' life - a life of creativity, spirit and service to something bigger than ourselves.

(Note:  I'm still learning this blogging stuff and for some reason comments haven't been allowed recently.  I think we have fixed that error so I encourage you to add your thoughts to this conversation.)

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