When baseball great Lou Gehrig was dying of his now-infamous disease in 1939, he stood in Yankee Stadium, hunched, and proclaimed, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
If that’s not seeing the glass half full, I don’t know what is. The Iron Horse, as the pundits dubbed him, thought not so much about his impending death, but his remarkable life, his humble upbringings and his enormous athletic talent that elevated him to fame and fortune, providing love and dignity to his family. He thought about the treasure of life. After all, he figured, we all gotta die sometime, what’s the big deal?
Reminds me of that poignant poem by Linda Ellis titled, “The Dash,” which focuses on a headstone marker, denoting the year of birth and the year of death, but all that really matters is that little dash in between the years. If you’ve never read it, here it is:
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her 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 she spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved her
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?
As the big 7 – 0 approaches for this blogger, Ms. Ellis’ poem, and Mr. Gehrig have given me cause to pause and reflect on glass half full. What a life!
I often wondered what it would have been like to see Babe Ruth hit a baseball, Paganini play a violin, or see an opera with Enrico Caruso, or live in a time when Mozart, Beethoven, DaVinci and Michaelangelo were alive. Or, the great Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Jefferson or Columbus, Moses or even Jesus himself.
How lucky I’ve been. I may not have been there in the old days, but I’ve lived to see Tiger Woods’ golf, Pete Sampras in tennis, Jim Brown’s football runs and Nolan Ryan’s fast ball. I’ve heard Pavarotti sing Puccini arias, and witnessed the legendary acting talents of Streep, DeNiro, Bette Davis and so many more. I was there to see and hear Ezio Pinza sing “Some Enchanted Evening” in 1949 New York. I’ve met the great Jascha Heifetz and stood in the wings, awestruck, when he played the Beethoven Concerto in D Major for violin. I lived in the time of Gandhi, Churchill, Roosevelt, Hitler and Martin Luther King, Jr.and everyone else who has made a difference since April of 1939 when I entered planet Earth. I remember the Roosevelt funeral, the atom bomb, Korea and the Kennedy inaugural “Ask not” speech on a black & white television set. I was there, glued to a television set when men from my country set foot on the moon. These are people and events that will be the subject of history books in centuries to come, and I was there…so to speak.
I’ve been to famous monuments, the Louvre and other museums to witness the greatest art in the history of man. I stood in the White House, the Capitol and at the Speaker’s Box in the House of Commons. I’ve met governors, senators, and other celebrities. My views about crime in America were once sought after by members of the United States Congress.
I’ve played violin in symphonies, baseball in Babe Ruth Leagues, golf at the Doral Blue Monster, written books and had my humble opinions published in many newspapers and magazines. A stint in the Parris Island Marines and thirty years of law enforcement introduced me to every side of life known to man, the good and the bad, all of which has made me realize just how lucky I’ve been to have mind and body at my disposal, to cherish and to use.
I even managed to run a 26 mile marathon three years after quitting a four pack-a-day Pall Mall habit.
People my age have lived through some of the most significant transitions in history, socially, technologically and politically. Once, it was S.O.P. for people with darker skin to sit in a separate part of a bus, or drink from a separate water fountain. Today, it’s unthinkable. Once, people would have laughed at the concept of a black person becoming president of the United States. Those of us who were born in the 1930’s, watched the growth of technology change from file cards to computers, from a four-inch, rabbit-eared television, to i-Pods, Blackberries and plasma screens. Party lines and long distance rates are of the past. Now we can talk to anyone in the world, any time we wish, using a small hand-held device. Amazing. World travel for common people is unremarkable today, whereas it was once a phenomenon. Symphonies and concertos play in our homes and cars today, where we once had to attend concerts to enjoy such beauty of sound. Foods, fashion, housing, entertainment, medical advancements, longer life and improved health…the list is endless measuring today’s bounty. It would be beyond belief of our ancestors.
Now and then, I’ve managed to help others with their struggles, needs and ambitions…friends, family, children…and learned that giving is one of the most satisfying feelings one can ever experience. Little can match the unexpected letter from a long-lost colleague of a generation past, telling me how much I once meant to him or her. Or that surprise hug from a stranger at a library talk, telling me I changed his life forever when he was a teenager…and I didn’t even know it.
A Miami Beach bookie gave me the springboard that launched a law enforcement career and thus, a life of helping my fellow citizens live in a safer community. (or, at least, I’d like to think so) At the same time, that career provided an enormous well from which my life has been enriched with so many unique and wonderful friends.
Most of all, I have basked in the love of my French honey, (and sculptor artist) Suzanne, for twenty-two years, and of my ever-so-strong kids, now adult, who have weathered and survived some rocky roads of years past. It gladdens me to know I may have made a positive difference in their lives, somehow. And for the rocky roads, perhaps I helped them to learn the art of survival and the joy of achievement. It also gladdens me to know and enjoy my grandchildren, and that one day, I will meet my four-year-old great-granddaughter who lives in another far away state.
Sure, I’ve screwed up. Sometimes I screwed up really bad. I’ve hurt others in years past, and for that, I can only atone and try to make things better. I’ve overcome my share of adversity, only to emerge a better person, able to make others happy and to share the good things in life.
Of course, I would love to be a millionaire, though I’ve know paupers that were happier than some millionaires. And as I may ponder about material things others have, I never forget an old quotation that my best friend, Harvey Glaser, repeated almost 55 years ago:
There was a man who said… “I cried when I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet.”
I don’t need a million dollars…it’s been a million dollar life.
If I were to die tomorrow, it would surely be too soon. But, anyone who would read my marker could say, “There’s a guy who didn’t waste his dash.”
Like Lou Gehrig, I am a lucky guy.
Thank you all…for being you.