Editorial: Life is a circle and a dash

Column By Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

At the beginning of the circle is birth and at the end of the circle is death. But, life lives on in the DNA of humanity. Your life is a circle and so is mine. The dash represents what happens between the dates on our memorial marker.

“All my life’s a circle; Sunrise and sundown; Moon rolls through the nighttime; ‘Til the daybreak comes around. All my life’s a circle, but I can’t tell you why; Season’s spinning round again; The years keep rollin’ by.” – Lyrics by Harry Chapin, an American singer-songwriter and humanitarian. Chapin was a man of charity and performed for myriad causes. And he walked his talk.

Chapin died too soon at the age of 38 in 1981. An extraordinary storyteller, his humble heart sang about relationships. “His principal contribution was his self-described ”story song,” a narrative form that owed much to older talking blues and similar structures. The subjects of these songs were often common people with poignant or even melodramatic tales to tell – tales of lost opportunities, cruel ironies, and life’s hypocrisies,” according to a 1981 article in The New York Times.

I was blessed for the opportunity to listen to Chapin during an outdoor concern during my college years in Huntington, West Virginia. Chapin remained dedicated to folk music and that’s why I admired him. He stands alongside Peter, Paul, and Mary; Woody and Arlo Guthrie; and Bob Dylan — in my opinion.

“Cat’s in the Cradle,” Chapin’s 1974 folk-rock song was a huge hit for him as well as “Taxi.” Listen to exclusive Harry Chapin music on his foundation website. The mission of the Harry Chapin Foundation is to support organizations that have demonstrated their ability to dramatically improve the lives and livelihood of people by helping them to become self-sufficient. www.harrychapinfoundation.org. The dates on Chapin’s tombstone read 1942 – 1981. The circle encompasses the dash in-between the numbers. Every deceased person has a dash, and Chapin lived his dash to the fullest.

The Dash Poem, written by Linda Ellis in 1996, can be found at wwwthedashpoem.com. “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.”

“The Circle of Life” is a song from Disney’s 1994 animated film, The Lion King. “It’s the circle of life. And it moves us all. Through despair and hope. Through faith and love. ‘Til we find our place. On the path unwinding. In the circle. The circle of life.”

Aging is our reminder that daily living on Earth is to be cherished—because sooner or later we all die. It seems like the days of our youth flew by so quickly. The mirror reflects grey hair, wrinkles, and the passing of time. Our brain holds precious memories of what happened between the dash. The dash denotes change. Relationships rupture and repair. Relationship with our deity, ourselves, and others.

“Youth is a silly, vapid state, Old age with fears and ills is rife; This simple boon I beg of Fate – A thousand years of Middle Life,” penned Carolyn Wells.

Nonetheless, the seasons return.

Autumn of 2019 signifies the beginning of fall holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Families will feast, bake the turkey and deck the halls. More memories will be saved in photo albums. The circle of life continues during our celebrations. Grandmothers and grandfathers pass away and the torch is passed down to others.

“Will the circle be unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by. There’s a better home a-waiting in the sky, Lord in the sky. I was standing by my window, on one cold and cloudy day, when I saw the hearse come rolling for to carry my mother away.” Lyrics by the Carter Family. The circle doesn’t end on Earth. The circle begins again in Heaven. That’s what I believe.

“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?” —Linda Ellis.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Ohio.