There’s a well-known poem (“The Dash”) that highlights the importance of a person’s dash; that is, the little, often unnoticed, line in-between the year of someone’s birth and death. It’s one’s dash that really matters. The last stanza of the poem is telling:
“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? (Linda Ellis, “The Dash,” 1996)
I would like to briefly reflect on what I’ll call “Doc’s Dash,” and note two ways he spent his dash at our University. The first was his passion for his work at Sodexo and the care and love he had for our students, his colleagues, and the hundreds of student workers that Doc supervised during his twenty-one years. Doc relished the title “Floor General” as he supervised the ebb-and flow of activities in our Dining Commons. He was a “larger-than-life” figure on campus. Doc was hard working, frequently demanding, often playful with a keen sense of humor and story-telling and sometimes, in moments of emotional spontaneity, very colorful language.
Doc’s other passion was his love of fishing. He could chat for hours about the art and science of fishing, how to properly untangle a fishing reel, how to scrape barnacles from a boat. And as I listened to Doc, this was all new to me given that I grown up in New York City and the only two types of fish I knew about were frozen fish from the supermarket and tuna fish in a can.
Doc knew just about everything about fishing. He even once started a fishing club for students at the University. Rumors have it that the club would have been more successful if students were able to wake up before sunrise to join Doc fishing.
The second way Doc spent his dash was his friendship with me, which deepened when he received the devastating diagnosis of brain cancer Ωver a year ago. Cancer compels us all to think about two things we rarely ponder: (1) our mortality and (2) whether we can reconcile God with our suffering. Doc’s faith grew not by the denial of his mortality but by a deeper understanding of it and his willingness to try to understand God in the midst of his suffering.
Early on when Doc stopped by my office to update me about his medical progress, I asked him if he had any favorite prayers that we could pray together. He said bluntly, “I know only one prayer, Joe, The Lord’s Prayer. Is that good enough?” I noted that it wasn’t just good enough, it was the perfect one. We then prayed The Lord’s Prayer together each time we met. The phrase “Thy will be done” always seemed to resonate with Doc every time we recited this prayer.
Doc courageously embraced this cancer because he loved his job and loved his family.
In the final days of his life, Doc was able to attend his daughter’s wedding and was able to leave this world with dignity and a sense of peace. His wife Barb modeled well the part of their marriage vow “Until death do us part.” We are grateful for that loving example.
It is a mystery why some of us get more years to live than others. I’m the University Chaplain, who has studied the Bible for a long time and I still don’t know why. But I do know that the mystery of faith can give us hope for something more than this temporal existence here on earth. We certainly wanted to have Doc around for many more years. Yet I sense that our memories and faith will keep him with us t in many ways. May Doc rest in peace and may his memory be a blessing to us all. Amen.