Roy Exum: Our 500,000 Dashes

Monday, February 22, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There was a very sobering pause in my Morning Readers when I realized Sunday, Feb. 21st, 2021, would mark the deaths of a half-million Americans due to COVID-19. To best put that in perspective, this time last year we were just learning about the coronavirus. Heck, this time last year I couldn’t even spell it, and in Chattanooga, we were about two weeks shy of the pandemic’s first known case in our area.

Not 30 minutes before the jolt of the dark milestone I had read in The Wall Street Journal an opinion article by highly regarded Marty Makary where the Johns Hopkins epidemiologist predicted the disease would be “almost gone” by April.

The United States has had a colossal 77 percent decline in cases within the last six weeks. Dr. Makary, who ought to get an honorary degree in humanity for sharing the news, wants Americans to rejoice that the finish line in the greatest tragedy I have ever experienced is not so far away.

Careful, we are still averaging 2,000 deaths in America every day and you are mighty right when you grasp this is most assuredly no cause for anyone to skip the vaccine. There are different strains and mutations still being discovered and I liken the eventual finish to the greatest sports event I have ever witnessed – we need a champion’s heart in the last 100 meters, the final seconds -- wear your face mask diligently, wash your hands and distance in an urgent push toward “herd immunity.”

It is believed those who have religiously fought COVID in every way possible are the MVPs in our God-sent decline and many doctors feel the reason the common flu has been so scare is because the COVID guidelines have played a monumental role in the absence of contagious diseases.

Of course, other brilliant minds, like our national hero Anthony Fauci, remain guarded because COVID itself is still very much a mystery. When I took my first dose of the vaccine, I was bed-ridden for two days of agony so, last week, I dreaded my second dose. I bought extra Tylenol, renewed my nausea prescriptions, stocked up on Gatorade … the whole thing … and what? A slight headache and otherwise I’m fine. Don’t tell me the coronavirus ain’t a mystery!

Scott Gottlieb, the former Food & Drug commissioner, said he has reasons to believe that in the next four to five weeks there will be at least 250 million doses of the vaccine delivered to the American people. Many top health officials privately agree with Johns Hopkins’ Makary but caution against public optimism because many Americans are searching for ways to weasel out of the inoculations.

The Centers for Disease Control are openly worried that the more transmissible variant of COVID now terrorizing Britain will be in the USA by mid-April and there is some belief that other variants will be found.

Earlier on Sunday, I was in my quiet time when I ran across a much-loved poem written by Linda Ellis named “The Dash.” I printed if off, carrying a copy around in my hip-pocket in hopes of making it part of my ongoing “memory work.” Later, when I paused after I did some quick math and deduced our country would break the 500K death ceiling, I dug it back out of my pocket and headed to the porch.

I prayed for the half-million families of those who have lost a piece of their heart in just the last year and wondered what many of those victims would say if I could somehow interview four or five of them. That they would urge every one of us to take advantage of an absolutely free vaccine is a given – and remind all of us who have gotten the vaccine it is a precious gift from our federal, state, and local governments and the “good” in us should warrant a hand-written note of thanks to at least one person in that chain.

* * *


A Poem written by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak

at the funeral of a friend.

He referred to the dates on the tombstone

from the beginning… to the end.


He noted that first came the date of birth

and spoke of the following date with tears,

but he said what mattered most of all

was the dash between those years.


For that dash represents all the time

they spent alive on earth.

And now only those who loved them

know what that little line is worth.


For it matters not, how much we own,

the cars… the house… the cash.

What matters is how we live and love

and how we spend our dash.


So, think about this long and hard.

Are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left

that still can be rearranged.


If we could just slow down enough

to consider what’s true and real

and always try to understand

the way that other people feel.


To be less quick to anger

and show appreciation more

and love the people in our lives

like we’ve never loved before.


If we treat each other with respect

and more often wear a smile…

remembering that this special dash

might only last a little while.


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 lived your dash?

- - -

Linda Ellis, of Marietta, Ga., has enjoyed remarkable success since a syndicated radio station aired a reading of her poem “The Dash” in 1996. Since then, she has been able to build a career as a poet, author and inspirational speaker that has allowed her to touch the lives of millions of people, all through her writing. Learn more about her on her website:

* * *

BOB DOLE READS “THE DASH” – It was revealed last week that one of America’s greatest Senators, Bob Dole, age 97, has Stage 4 lung cancer. On Saturday President Joe Biden visited former Senator Dole in his Washington, D.C., home. The White House told reporters he was visiting "his close friend." Dole and Biden served in the Senate together for decades. About seven years ago, while speaking at an event to honor America’s wounded veterans, Dole read the poem and, if you will watch closely, you can see he is emotionally moved by it. CLICK HERE.

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