In Honor of the Free Spirit in Us All

There’s an anticipated normal progression to life: We’re born. We grow up. We grow old. We die. And they say what’s really important is the “dash” – that “grow up and grow old” part of the equation that falls between our birth and our death, represented simply by the dash on our tombstone between those two dates.

When that dash encompasses 80, 90, 100 years, we can feel a certain level of peace in the grief of a person’s passing, knowing there was sufficient time to truly live, learn, and leave a legacy. We’ve had a chance to express our love, and to say good-bye. There’s a soft wistfulness that accompanies the loss, settling gently on our hearts and carrying us through the grieving process to a place of acceptance.

Sharply contrasted is the stark, startling devastation experienced when the numbers before and after that dash are far too close together. Case in point – the loss this past Saturday of my college roommate’s daughter, Emily Darlington Howland. Although I’ve lived long enough to know that death can take any of us at any time, it doesn’t lessen the unexpected blow when it strikes too soon and too close to home.

However, as I think back on the short life of this young woman, I realize her impact on the world around her is of no less value or depth than that of her older counterparts. She was truly a free spirit who never let anything hold her back from living life to the fullest. She wasn’t comfortable with following a traditional path or what society deemed traditional or “normal”, so she forged her own way, even changing her name from Emily (her first name) to Darlington (her middle name) when she felt that better suited her. And it certainly did. She impacted lives, made friends, reached out, did what she wanted to do in life, and experienced life to the fullest in her short lifespan.

In honor of this delightful young woman taken from us far too soon, I urge you to unleash the free spirit within you. Reach for that golden ring. Never allow age, infirmity, or any other excuses to keep you from following your dreams, taking chances, and leaving your mark on the world and those around you. It’s been a lifestyle I’ve embraced for years, but starting today, I’m going to work even harder to make each moment count. In tribute to you, Darlington.