About 12 years ago, someone gave me a small book called “The Dash.” As I read it, I realized it was a poem by Linda Ellis.

Although I haven’t committed the entire poem to memory, the poem’s message has continued to come to mind frequently. Here’s the poem for your contemplation:

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 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?

Living our dash consciously is about having a personal mission. Who are you to be? What are you to do? When you are confused about what action is called for, what informs and clarifies for you?

During my preparation for ordination at the end of 2002, I was asked to write a personal mission statement. I was to use no more than seven words to describe my mission – what I was here to do and be.

I am not someone who is known for brevity, but limiting me to seven words was one way to get me to really zero in on my most important mission in this life. I came up with “To Be An Instrument of Peace.”

Over the years, I have modified my mission statement a couple more times. The first revision was “To Be An Instrument of Peace and Love.” Then about 5 years ago, I revised it to my current mission statement: “To Be An Instrument of Peace and Love, Inspire Others, and Strive to Make a Difference in the Lives of Everyone I Meet.”

When we remember that we are spiritual beings having a human experience instead of the other way around, we can fully embrace that we live for a purpose, and it is up to us to know that purpose and then live that purpose.

A personal mission statement – a conscious decision about how we will live our dash – informs us throughout our entire lives. We all get into situations where we need clarity and direction about how we are called to react.

I’ve been pondering lately what, if anything more, I am to do about the hate and injustice I see in so many places in the world? Am I to be speaking out publicly? Am I to be in the protest lines with those who I love and respect? Am I to continue focusing on living my personal mission and understand that is the action I am called to take?

If I were to keep focusing on being an instrument of peace and love, inspire others to do the same, and strive to make a difference in the lives of all I touch, I am immersed in the action to which I’m called.

I am also aware that I am so grateful for those who are called to their own mission and different actions. I am grateful for those who publicly protest the injustices they see in the world.

I am inspired by those who publicly advocate for the oppressed and for those who are unfairly treated, and those who call for non-judgment and acceptance of all. I am amazed at those who provide foster care for numerous children and those who adopt children or assist adults who are from other races, cultures and religions.

I am inspired by those who write or sing inspiring pieces. I appreciate those who are called to visit people who are lonely or unable to get out.

Whatever you are called to do in the name of love and peace, I appreciate how you choose to live your dash.

One person at a time, we each make a difference in our world.

What is your mission? How are you living your dash? How are you called to make the world a better place during your time on earth?

Thank you for saying yes to living the mission to which you’ve been called.

Today’s Insights was written by the Rev. Linda Gunter, an ordained interfaith minister. She retired as the CEO of Peace Village, and is the former CEO of Hospice at Home in Southwest Michigan. She has been a guest minister at churches throughout Southwest Michigan. Insights is written by area clergy to give different viewpoints on a variety of topics. It is published each Saturday in cooperation with the Berrien County Association of Churches. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of member churches.