Death to the Dash
A tale of the ripple and the rush.
Everyone knew Rigel. And what wasn’t to like. Bright. Popular. Noticed miles away. Acclaimed authors wrote about Rigel. Studied Rigel like a potential lover. The upper echelon for all to aspire to. Not to mention a name that harkened back to royalty. If only the same could be said of the neighbor.
Betelgeuse. Overweight. Dim. Known, but not like Rigel. An unfortunate moniker with which to visualize a creepy 1980s adaptation of Michael Keaton. Yet at the end of the day, Betelgeuse’s impact on the world would outlive Rigel 2 million years.
Stars. What’s that have to do with the dash? Quite a lot actually. See, stars exhibit color on the light spectrum based on how fast and hot their hydrogen reaction occurs. The brighter, bluer the star, the faster the track to supernova (death by stardust).
Rigel and Betelgeuse are supergiants, so their burnup speed is even faster, relatively speaking. But Sol — our sun, an average light in the galactic neighborhood, will outlive both by 4.49 billion years and has already been around 4.5 billion years. That’s a 45,000% return on investment. Who wouldn’t want that longevity on bringing thriving?
How will you live your dash?
The dash doesn’t. Sure, it is seen, but the one doing the dashing inevitably explodes and takes all their investments and potential with it. The dash pollutes, estranges the most intimate relationships and incurs mental unhealth.
Why? Like the law of thermodynamics influencing a star’s output, our implicit law propels our nature. Make your dash count. Everyone has a birthdate and death date; it’s what you do with your dash that matters. Just do it.
So, we pride ourselves in never using our employer-approved benefit of PTO. It takes us the full week to even get to a point of unwinding on vacation and not hearing the ghost ping from our phones. Our college-age anxiety is at record highs as students are now required to think about their senior-year internship while applying for universities as an entry-grade high schooler.
Is this what counts? What if there is a switch in thinking, like changing from addition to multiplication impacts the results, that exponentially changes what we are looking for in life? There is. The ripple.
Ripples, just how the created world likes it
Both addition and multiplication seek an answer, a solution. But the rules, the laws of mathematics, change. Similarly, both the dash and ripple are after legacies. The dash builds upon a rule for how ingeniously fast you can climb a ladder in 60 seconds. The ripple draws from this wisdom in nature: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, its inert multiplication will remain dormant. The ripple embraces the end that the dash speedily tries to divert, ignore or extend.
Stars abide by the same laws. All burn hydrogen. Yet Rigel’s legacy is stardust, maybe one day populating a new star or planet. But Sol? Sol’s legacy is the galaxies, the extent to which its life leads humans to beget more life toward.
The example of the ripple exists outside of just Sol. The created world gives so many illustrations beckoning us to take notice. Consider the seed again: Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit. When we dash, we hold onto our seed. The wisdom here is that the seed becomes worthless if kept. Given, it is exponentially life giving.
If one looked at the entire Animal Kingdom, all species choose and give to this ripple. They’re not after making a name for themselves around the watering hole, keeping claim of the ridges where they roosted, hording bananas for themselves. They give away. Only the human species chooses whether we live for the dash or live for the ripple.
And why not? We celebrate the dashes in high culture, pop culture and history books. We all want to be the superhero, not the Jane Doe walking the streets of New York.
Dashing cannot outrun its limits
During my masters studies in cross-cultural communication and anthropology, I researched the life of David Livingstone. There’s a lot of dash to his story.
Livingstone opened the way to parts of the inland African continent. Sought after the Niles’ source. Had books written about him. He was recognizable. Popular throughout Western Europe. Yet in his dash, he abandoned his wife and four children at the Cape of Good Hope to return to England without him. Over six years, his wife drunk herself numb to the growing gossip and questions that her husband left her because she was no good. His children wanted nothing to do with his legacy because he was an absent father for so much of their lives in pursuit of his explorations and discoveries.
It could have gone differently. Livingstone could have settled in South Africa with his wife and children. He could have adventured a lifetime of joy with his wife rather than bury her at the mouth of the Zambezi. He could have marveled at his children living on to continue his explorations. They could have modeled giving themselves to family and philanthropy. But the dash urged him to more, at their expense.
The dash has this tendency to increase dashing. Dashing begets more dashing. More urgency. A fear that what we have will not be enough.
So we’re willing to cut corners to make a little more money, even if the law says it’s embezzlement and those numbers represent others’ financial futures. We’re willing to indebt long-term impact on the environment if it means technological innovations and accolades today. Forget the grandchildren. We tell ourselves that all the extra time at the office is for the sake of our families even though the families are in disarray like an out-of-control ball of yarn. Like how the stars’ hydrogen process burning at an exponential rate only causes the star to burn out faster, so too are humans addicted to the dash only growing more frivolous in their aims.
Still unconvinced? If not through the created order, what about observing the dash in the manufactured (dis)order of city planning. We’ve all seen it or been at a time or two a speeding car heading down the interstate. Twenty minutes later, there’s a backup. That speeding vehicle has been in a severe wreck, now blocking two lanes of traffic. That one person’s dash affects the overall flow of hundreds of thousands of commuters. Otherwise, this thoroughfare pulses unobstructed, propelling the lifeblood of society.
The irony is that both the dash and the ripple have a multiplying effect. The difference is that the dash multiplies destruction, like a meteorite striking broken earth, whereas the ripple multiplies flourishing, like a soft breeze over the surface of the water.
The dash opposes entropy; the ripple honors it. The dash sees life as a scarce good; the ripple sees it as a sacred gift. Both have the same numbers, but their rules bring about different solutions. A new answer to an old adversary. An acceptance to limits, unbound when we give of ourselves for the good of others, freed from the very limits the dash only reinforces.
But like a ripple, like an absence of traffic, it’s hard to see with the untrained eye. The dashers stand out. The dashers shake the headlines. But it is those content with the ripple who, like the sun, warm lives and beget life in the fibers of who we are — all the while normalized and non-news to our dash-saturated conscious.
The unnoticed heartbeat of the universe
There are examples though of those whose impact is not a mad dash but a steady ripple. Buddy Hoffman, a man who has held two addresses like me in both an obscure southeastern Chicago suburb and an East Atlanta neighborhood, is one such undocumented story. He is an example of living after investment rather than illustriousness.
Hoffman started a church in Georgia that became locally popular to the point of discussing building expansions, but he opted to invest in leaders who could start new communities of faith rather than have one epicenter under his name. He opened his home to children who weren’t his own, where they gleaned his bad jokes, picked up his mannerisms and imbibed his posture to release people to their own potential rather than reserve people for his own pride. He did so in such a way that when he faced his untimely death, it wasn’t an endgame. It was his extra life now lived in the lives of those who grew out of what he gave away. Ripples in the flow of human history.
It could have gone differently. Hoffman could have sought a religious empire. He could have foregone evenings with guys in his basement for late-night planning at the office, dreaming up the quintillionth addition to his monolith. He could have sacrificed his family on the altar of ego, being yet another Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. But he gave of himself, and lives on.
His story is like many people whose lives were ripples. History won’t capture them. The night sky won’t get brighter because of their end. Like headlines only picking up the novel bad news, their good news will be left unspoken. Most likely those who invested in you will not have a sidewalk imprinting their memory or a bridge forever signposted in their honor. But your own life is a reflection of their investment, and those in whom you invest are the ongoing ripple of their initial investment in you. Even their investment is but a ripple of others who’ve gone before us.
When their and your names are forgotten, your ripple still pulses through the DNA of those you invested in, those you created, those you adopted. Like Rigel and Betelgeuse, Sol’s life will inevitably reach an end too. But unlike the former who destroy all in their wake, the billions of years of Sol’s devotion to life will not bring destruction. It will be a splendid sendoff of waves lapping upon the void, a goodbye gesture to the human life now living among the stars.