soul searching

Part 4 in a series: Let’s Be Frank about Spirit and Meaning

(Links below to previous installments)

As he struggled to deal with what he was now calling his “trapped emptiness,” Frank came across a poem entitled “The Dash.” It was written by a former player and student of Lou Holtz. Frank learned that the legendary Notre Dame football coach closed many of his speaking engagements by reading this poem. At the heart of the poem are four lines that really jumped out at Frank.

“I’ve seen my share of tombstones but never took the time to truly read.

The meaning behind what is there for others to see.

Under the person’s name it read the date of birth, dash, and the date the person passed

But the more I think about the tombstone, the important thing is the dash.”

Thinking about his own “dash” gave Frank a path to follow in his search for meaning. I didn’t choose my date of birth, and unless I take things into my own hands, I won’t get to choose the day I die, Frank reflected. But how I live now is completely up to me. It’s my responsibility. It’s my choice. What really matters most to me, he asked himself.

The U.S. philosopher and poet, George Santayana, once said, “there is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.” For many years I helped coach our son Chris’ baseball team. One warm June evening, we were driving home from a game. We had the windows down and sunroof open as we listened to the world’s greatest baseball team — the Toronto Blue Jays — beating up the Yankees again. Chris seemed to be off in another world. Suddenly he turned to me with wonderment in his voice and said, “Dad, do you ever have those seconds when it just clicks in your head that everything is perfect?” I thought for a minute and then replied, “Not as often as I used to. I’ve become too busy reaching for the future to enjoy the moment.”

Life is a limited time offer. Too often, our “dash” becomes a mad dash. We rush around trying to do and have it all. We become human doings rather than human beings. We provide for our bodily needs while starving our souls. We lose sight of what really matters. We become truer to our ego than our soul.

Child of the Dawn: A Magical Journey of Awakening, is a parable by Gautama Chopra, based on work by his father, Deepak Chopra. He writes, “Everyone has a special purpose, a special talent or gift to give to others, and it is your duty to discover what it is. Your special talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with your talent is your gift to God.”

Artists, writers, and performers often talk about finding their voice. Their art becomes an expression of that inner self. The people with the deepest and most meaningful lives are those who have found and used their inner voice. Their life sings from their soul. The ancient Roman poet, Horace, poses a core being question, “why do you hasten to remove anything which hurts your eye, while if something affects your soul, you postpone the cure until next year?”

Frank is exploring how our work is a way we can be true to our souls. Toward the end of his life, impressionistic painter Auguste Renoir had severe arthritis in his hands. But his voice wouldn’t be silenced that easily. To continue expressing himself through his painting, he had his brushes strapped to his wrists. A friend asked why he imposed such pain and inconvenience upon himself. Without hesitation, Renoir answered, “the pain is momentary, but the art will last.”

Professor, historian, and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari, draws on his study of humanity from the Stone Age to the 21st century in, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind to observe, “happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile. There is an important cognitive and ethical component to happiness. Our values make all the difference to whether we see ourselves as ‘miserable slaves to a baby dictator’ or as ‘lovingly nurturing a new life’. As Nietzsche put it, if you have a why to live, you can bear almost any how. A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.”

Frank reflected on how his work is part of his dash. Our inner voice develops laryngitis if we are in a job we’re not passionate about. Work can be part of a deeper life calling if we put our heart into it. Our work can be our contribution to making this team, this organization, and this world just a little better because we passed this way. That’s when what we do becomes a meaningful expression of who we are.

The Dash ends with these lines:

“So, when you begin to charter your life make sure you’re on a positive path.

Because people may forget your birth and death,

but they will never forget your dash.”

What will Frank decide he’d like his dash to stand for? What will he want his legacy to be? Who will care?

Let’s Be Frank about Spirit and Meaning Series