HOW WE LIVE AND LOVELearn about the author and story behind the poem.
The Story of The Dash Poem by Linda Ellis
While it still amazes me, a simple poem I wrote one afternoon in 1996 forever changed my life. It all began when I faxed a copy of this poem to a syndicated radio show in Atlanta. The host of this popular show read it on the air. Little did I know how much my life would change from that day forward. Thirty-six lines that have touched millions! Titled simply — The Dash — these 36 lines have literally taken on a life of their own by traveling all over the world. I call it uncomplicated poetry in a complicated world, which became a slogan to describe my inspirational writings.
People are always asking me what, in particular, inspired me to write this poem. I believe it was a combination of things in my life at the time. It was during a period when I was working for the top executives of a very large and successful corporation. It was a strict company with a tense working environment. I began to notice how the priorities in many lives there had become, what I considered, misaligned. It seemed to me there were far too many worrying more about making a living, than making a life. Also, resonating in the back of my mind were the words from a letter which had been previously routed around the office. It had been written by the wife of an employee who was aware that she was dying. I was so moved by that letter that I saved a copy of it and continue to live by her words: “Regrets? I have a few. Too much worrying about finding the right husband and having children, being on time, being late and so on. It didn’t matter. It all works out and it would have worked out without the worries and the tears.
If I would have known then what I know now. But I did and so do you. We’re all going to die. Stop worrying and start loving and living.” Her words stuck with me. Her letter made me stop and think. This is it. This is all we get. I remember where I was when I first truly realized the significance of the piece that I had written. I was on a business trip in Minnesota, alone in a hotel room. I received an emotional email thanking me for sharing the message of The Dash from a student who had recently heard it as part of a memorial gathering for the Columbine High School students. I sat on the bed and cried.
Several years later, I found myself engulfed in the thoughts and feelings created by my own words as I listened to them read aloud, for what seemed like the very first time, at the funeral of my father… my best friend. I wrote this closing exactly one year from that day and never had the words of the poem meant more to me. The Dash has truly affected millions. I may not be able to change the world with these words, but I have certainly been able to influence a portion of it. The poem’s words have convinced mothers to spend more time with their children, fathers to spend more time at home, and reunited long-lost loved ones. The words have changed attitudes and changed the direction of lives. They have, in their own way, made a difference. I know writing The Dash has changed my life. I hope reading it in some way, may change yours.
– Linda Ellis
About Linda Ellis
Linda Ellis started writing poems as a child, a talent inherited from her Irish grandmother. Her poetry has been featured in best-selling books and magazines such as “Family Circle”, “US News and World Report”, and other major publications. Her poems have also appeared on numerous television and radio programs.
In 1996, an announcer read Linda’s Ellis’s poem “The Dash” aloud on a syndicated radio program–and, to her surprise, it became an instant, meteoric success. Calls came in from people around the country eager to tell Linda how her words had touched their hearts. That was the beginning of an enduring phenomenon.
Her books – The Dash Book (Simple Truths, 1/2006) uses the Dash Poem as a centerpiece for 12 short stories about love, kindness and making a difference. The book was co-authored by Mac Anderson and has sold over 1 million copies. Live Your Dash (Sterling Publishing, 9/2011) captures and expands upon the theme of the original poem: It’s not your birth or death that matters most, but how you spend each passing year. Linda shares her message of joy, hope, and positive energy through uplifting stories, essays, and poetry, along with tales of people who have been “touched by the dash,” including Bob Dole, legendary football coach Lou Holtz, and American Idol winner David Cook. The book and speaking program surrounding it, represent an inspiring look at life based on the fantastically successful poem.