Importance of the dash

Posted By | February 6, 2020 1:08 pm

Playl’s Ponderings – By Steve Playl 

Cemeteries have always been very intriguing to me. The old home place, where I grew up, was practically surrounded by graveyards. On one side of our property was a small family burial area behind our next door neighbor’s barn. On the other side of us was Odd Fellow’s Cemetery. Thousands of graves were in Odd Fellow’s, back then. Now there are well over 10,000. One of those graves is that of my half-brother, Buford Donald Playl, who died many years before I was born.

Many stories could be shared about those grounds, but, just now, I’m thinking of the lessons to be learned by considering graveyards in a general way. The subject has been brought up in this column a few times in the past. Most recently, I recalled a visit to a rural burial ground located at a church where I had served as pastor.

Over the past few days, my attention has been captured by events that have dominated the thoughts of many folks throughout the world…as well as some more personal experiences. These events relate to the stark reality of cemeteries, life and death, and the closeness of the two.

Life is short. The tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gigi, and seven others on that hillside in Calabasas, California, have certainly magnified that truth. Forty-one is so young. Thirteen is very, very young. My half-brother was 5 when he was laid to rest in that massive cemetery in my hometown.

In my lifetime, I have found myself in many cemeteries. Some of those visits were to witness the interment of family members or close friends. On other occasions, I was there in an official capacity…to say a few words over the dearly departed. I have also visited graveyards to search for the resting place of an ancestor or to pay my respects to a remembered family member. I have even explored cemeteries just to view the tombstones and read the epitaphs chiseled in limestone or marble, and I have shared some of these experiences in this column.

Having conducted more than 500 funerals throughout the course of my ministry, I have overseen the burial of folks of all races, genders, backgrounds, religious beliefs, social status, and so on. Death is no respecter of persons. Cemeteries and mausoleums are the destination of the most diverse of occupants.  One thing that is emphasized by most head stones, plaques on crypts, or other grave markers is the age of the deceased…the brevity of life on this earth.

Death claims the lives of those from new born, and even unborn, to centenarian, and memorials usually record age by year of birth to year of death…1874 – 1966; 1912 – 1993; 1945 – 1969; 1978 – 2020; 2006 – 2020. A wise person once commented that the most important part of the inscription on a grave marker is “the dash”…the years between birth and death, the time of life on this earth.

Threescore and ten; fourscore; thirteen; five? No matter how many, the years are marked with labor and sorrow and opportunities that quickly pass. So let us pray with the Psalmist, “teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”

Take these anonymous words to heart: “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last…”

Steve Playl, chaplain, columnist, college instructor and former pastor,

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