Of Hyphens

My friends, I have been lax. I know that writing a blog is supposed to be a regular thing, but perhaps it’s because I live with deadlines in every other part of my writing life—work and school—that I rebel against them in my private writing life.

But then again, I should be a bit more disciplined. I could rattle off all kinds of excuses of my busy work schedule, teaching schedule, school schedule, and wedding planning, but I know that you haven’t been crying and wondering where I’ve been. You have so much else to do—and read—in your lives. I am humbled and honored that you take a few precious minutes of your day to check in with me whenever I find the inspiration to write . . . and post.

I began this blog to talk about us city folks newly moved to the country. While I’ve enjoyed telling you about the big sky and the critters that have made their way into our home and hearts, I got myself uninspired. I mean, I still love the fact that the sun sets off of my front porch across the farm field and behind the red barn, but for some reason life closed in again. Busy.

I’ve been thinking about hyphens lately. As a writer/copyeditor/proofreader, I am well aware of the differences between hyphens and en-dashes and em-dashes. It’s probably more correct to call it an em-dash. Whatever it is, it represents a life.

And my life is busy.

Sometimes when I visit my parents in Pennsylvania, I enjoy a quiet walk through the cemetery across Route 427 that runs in front of their house just outside Corry. It’s a long-standing cemetery, with some new headstones tall and straight—shiny granite with loving thoughts; others are tipped at odd angles—moss-covered and nearly illegible. A group of three small block headstones, dirtied with time, are clustered near the turn in the path and always catch my eye. There’s a woman, her husband, and a baby with just one day noted on the tiny headstone. I wonder what is in the hyphens. By the dates I can tell that the husband was eleven years older than his wife, and he died twenty years before she did. The tiny headstone represents a baby who died at birth and didn’t even get a name or a hyphen. This married couple had one very terrible day in their hyphens—one day that surely caused pain for the remaining twenty years of the husband’s life and forty years of his wife’s. At one point, the woman laid her husband to rest and then lived as a widow for another twenty years.

Did they have a happy marriage? Other children? What occupations had they performed? Was the man a banker or a chimney sweep? Did they have financial struggles or did they live a life of ease? What kind of life was in the hyphens?

All the headstones have hyphens.

Another group of three in a new part of the cemetery share the horror of a car accident that took the lives of three young teenagers in the community. The parents had even paid for pictures of their dear daughters to be etched in the headstones. I always stand in front of these and wonder about the hyphens. Young girls—worried about their hairstyles, their weight, their next date, their future husbands—got into a car on the way to who knows where and ended up there, together forever in granite. The different starting dates and identical ending date of their lives are etched below the pictures of young smiling, hopeful faces. That first date had seen a mere fifteen birthday celebrations before there were no more. Now it is a mere etched hyphen on a headstone.

And then, nearby, my dear Grandma Grover is buried. I know more about her hyphen. Some of it joyous, some of it painful. All of it a blessing to those who knew her.

I don’t mean to be morose, but when I think about being busy—too busy—I think about my hyphen. One day, that’s what will be left of me for some future writer to consider as she walks past my gravestone on a sunny summer day.

I want my hyphen to matter. Nothing wrong with being busy—I think I’m generally busy with pretty good things. I’ve tried to live a life pleasing to my heavenly Father. I’ve tried to enjoy the sun on my face or the snow blowing horizontally (at least here it does) past my window, the smiles on my children’s faces, the feel of my husband’s hand in mine.

I was doing my bi-weekly four-hour commute last week playing one of those old Wow! CDs with Christian music from the 1970s. I sang at the top of my lungs with Phil Keaggy and Don Francisco and The Imperials and Andre Crouch. I cried unabashedly. And suddenly I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratefulness for all of you—the many people who have touched my life across the last five decades. I don’t know what snippets you remember about me, but all of you have a spot in my memory reserved just for you. A word. A smile. A bit of encouragement. Some wise piece of advice. A hug. Moments of uncontrolled laughter. Times of tears.

You make up my hyphen. God put you in my life at that moment, and into now, for a reason.

Thanks for making my hyphen matter. I hope I have been able to give as much as I have received.

7 thoughts on “Of Hyphens

  1. Wow Linda. The tears are flowing in West Chicago. Be assured that your em-dash (much more than a hyphen) matters. Tremendously.

  2. What a beautiful reflection! We should all look back on our hyphens – kind of helps put things in perspective! You have touched my life! More than once!

  3. Thank you for the thought-provoking post, Linda. My parents used to live right across the street from a cemetary, and I liked to walk there. It truly is a perspective-corrective.

    I’m so glad God put us on earth during the same “hyphen” of time. It goes by so quickly! Now that we’re in our late 50s, Mike and I consider ourselves to be in our third trimester of life. More aches and pains but new life is getting closer and closer to arrival every day.

  4. You truly are an amazing writer! Your hyphen…my memory of you…is one of an amazing friend! Even though we only saw each other in a year’s time, you’ve remained in my heart for the past 34 years!

  5. Linda, your writing poignant and powerful. You have had a mighty impact-ful hyphen so far. I’m so glad you in my hyphen!

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