Scott Postma

A blog about the Great Books, the Craft of Writing, and Human Flourishing.

A Lesson From a Tombstone: Part Six

{If you missed it you can read Part One here, read Part Two here, read Part Three here, read Part Four here, and read Part Five here.}

Lastly, the nameless dead man died foolishly.

His epitaph will forever be: died eating library paste. What could be more absurd, more ridiculous, than a man eating library paste and dying as a result. Perhaps there is some legitimate reason a man would venture such culinary buffoonery, but I have never thought of one, and can’t imagine anyone else has an answer either. It would have been better to die of a toe infection.

Something about the way a man or woman dies reflects something about his character; it speaks to his nobility, his personal significance in this world. What could be more meaningful to a soldier than dying with his boots on? Or, what says nobility, like a man who lays down his life for his friend?

Hektor died honorably defending his family and his nation, even if it was at the end of Achilleus’ spear. Socrates died with dignity, not willingly to compromise what he was convinced to be the truth.

Like Jesus, Peter, Paul, Latimer, Ridley, Tyndale and hundreds of thousands of others throughout history died for the sake of the gospel.

Bonheoffer was hung with his head held high for his part in trying to end the madness of Adolph Hitler. Martin Luther King Jr. took a bullet peacefully advocating for civil rights.

The names of people who throughout history did similar would be to numerous to list. But they all died with their boots on, so to speak. None of them died eating library paste.

That day, standing there on the edge of the valley of death, with the hot desert wind chapping my face, an irregular, forgotten tombstone chapped my soul. Someone might as well have kicked the poor guy’s marker over, or written instead, here lies an insignificant man.

Both would have meant about the same to humanity at large.

Everyone gets a dash to do with as they please—like a gift from God with an expiration date. We’re born into the world, then each day, each hour, each minute, and each second passes sequentially, moving us closer to that expiration date—and there is nothing we can do to stop it or slow it down. Life has a limited supply, and our dash is the most valuable asset we have. There’s literally a premium on life, and we can’t afford to waste it.

There’s another thing too. Our dash is unique from all others. Ours is a life filled with experiences and opportunities different from everyone else’s. All of the good experiences, and the bad, work together to shape us into the people we are. Having a dash is like owning The Mona Lisa. There’s only one and that makes it priceless. Within our dash we have a purpose to fulfill—a destiny as it were—that no one else can accomplish.

But make no mistake, living a significant life isn’t meant to be a mad dash, some utilitarian pursuit of an Utopian ideal. And, it’s more than avoiding a tragic death in a remote desert mining town where no one knows who we are.

It’s discovering what we were made to do and why. Ours is a life that if not lived significantly will leave a void in our soul and an ugly mark in the world, like the bizarre white tombstone in the desolate Nevada ghost town.

The strange experience which started out as a short family pit stop on a long monotonous road trip, has for these reasons, become to me, symbolic for understanding what a significant life might look like. When a person lives a significant life, it will be marked by a good name, a life well-lived, and an influence long-remembered.

Do you know what your dash is for? If your epitaph was written today, would it tell a story of significance, or something else?

Whatever the case has been for you up till now, as long as you’re still working on Act II, and you’re willing to broaden your horizons, you can still find solace for your soul, and leave an indelible mark on the world.

If you haven’t already, I hope you discover your significance before your dash is permanently etched on a tombstone in some profane plat of obscure ground.

[This is the sixth post in a series of segments. Want to get posts like this in your inbox? Subscribe Here.]
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About Scott Postma

Scott is a writer and teacher living in North Idaho. He loves teaching the Great Books, writing and blogging, and collecting more books than he’ll ever read in a lifetime. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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One Reply

  1. raymund

    Yes Scott, I agree that the man with no name to his tombstone is not only intriguing but more a tragedy. This is food for thought and sort of a wake-up call to realise whether we on our incarnated journey, understand our life’s purpose and fulfil the “dash” meaningfully with loving-kindness and compassion for not only ourselves but also for all sentient beings on Gain.