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KEEPING THE FAITH | Wisdom of the ages is found in the dash

"The sum total of one’s contribution should not be reduced to a sentence or two," the Rev. Lewis Macklin writes.
The Rev. Lewis W. Macklin

My granny was known for her colorful quips and sage insight. 

When she was 72, I invited her as a participant on campus at Youngstown State University for one of my class projects. 

It was an aging and ethnicity class, and I conducted a Phil Donahue talk show format. The plan was to have an interactive conversation with the panelists and audience to understand the dynamics of aging. 

My grandmother was a guest along with two others. 

Like a good host, I had a set of prepared questions with a general sense of the anticipated responses. It has been said working with children and animals can be a challenge. In part, you never know what might happen. After this experience, I added my own grandmother to this list!

After introducing the panel, I fielded my first question to my grandmother. After adjusting my glasses like Phil I asked, “Mrs. Barrett, would you please tell us how old you are?”

She responded, first mirroring me by adjusting her glasses, by saying, “Why certainly, I am too young for Medicare and too old for the boys to care!”  

Needless to say, I lost full control of the interview and the class absolutely loved how she turned the tables on me throughout the interview. She bonded with my professor and even made me treat the panelists and professor to lunch at the Wicker Basket. She considered that a professional courtesy fee. 

Yes, the struggling college student was springing for lunch! 

Methuselah was a biblical patriarch and a figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is believed that he died at the age of 969 and lived the longest of all figures mentioned in the Bible. According to the Book of Genesis, Methuselah was the son of Enoch, the father of Lamech and the grandfather of Noah. 

Genesis 5:27 simply said, “Altogether, Methuselah lived a total of 969 years, and then he died.” How’s that for a quick summation for an obituary? While we are aware of his genealogy, little is known of his activities during his lifetime. Yet to be the oldest person mentioned in sacred text, one has to recognize his contribution beyond just existing.

I am convinced whether it’s Methuselah, my own beloved grandmother or any other venerated elder, the sum total of one’s contribution should not be reduced to a sentence or two. The lifetime of memories comprised and enduring legacy is to be embraced for the ages.

The closing moments of the television show "Marvel's Agents of Shield" reflectively noted that “People arrive, so we celebrate, and people leave us, so we grieve. We do what we can with the time in between, but the cycle is always there. No one escapes it.”

I am also reminded of a poem by Linda Ellis that speaks to the fullness of one’s life titled “The Dash.” 

"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 of 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 that 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?"

So keep living your life as God intends, realizing there will be good days and not so great days, highs and lows. These experiences are all part of the journey that tells the story of your own dash and how you kept the faith.  

— Rev. Lewis W. Macklin II is the lead pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, chaplain for the Youngstown Police Department and local coordinator for the African American Male Wellness Walk of the Mahoning Valley. He resides in Youngstown with Dorothy, his partner in marriage and ministry. They share the love and joy of 5 children and 6 grandchildren.

— All biblical citations are New International Version unless noted otherwise.