I used to think life was a connect-the-dots experience. The dots, of course, were all of those “Wow” moments in life. They were the Chorale tours, the trips to Stella Lake, the first dates, the hiking adventures, the booked flights, and every other momentous occasion which punctuated the year. The kind of events with as many likes on Facebook as there are fruit flies in a candy shop.
Hopping from one bright dot to the next, I hoped that some beautiful picture would be made of the array when all was said and done. In the meantime, it was my task to simply draw the line and wait patiently until it met with the next adventure. Living for the dots! This illustration was my worldview.
If your spirit is blooming as I hope it is, you should be able to see a flaw (or two) with this mindset. The one critique that jumps out at me now centers on the idea of the line drawn between dots. What is it that makes that line any less important than its destination? Why do we say “Connect the Dots” as though the dots are the only things with any substance and the line is just a supplemental necessity. What makes life between the dots any less substantive?
The lines, not the dots, make the picture in the end. As my good friend and I philosophized during his impromptu visit to my college abode, “The dots give you purpose, but the lines give you meaning.”
In the last few weeks of reflection, I have come to learn that life is not just about waiting for the next big event on the calendar. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with always having something to look forward to. If you consider a connect-the-dots puzzle, the numbered pinpoints of ink are the things which give us direction and purpose in the artistic act. They pull us along to the next connection and remind us why we are bothering to put the pen to the page!
Likewise, we remember the years gone by largely by how the celebrations made milestones of an ordinary day. Those big events give us a reason to move forward, and give us a chance to develop the picture of our lives! But, those are not the only experiences with meaning. Every minute in the day is an experience. I would say 4:37 p.m. on an ordinary Sunday might not seem extraordinary, but it is part of my life and the line between the dots! Life would not be holistic or artistic without moments like this one, without the lines.
My note to self: Don’t downplay the mundane. Anyone who has ever experienced the hullabaloo of an undergraduate career understands the utter joy of curling up next to someone who cares for you, of being able to brush your teeth and enjoy that minty clean feeling after a long day. I ENJOY MY TOOTHPASTE. Doesn’t that make the black and white lines between the dots seem so colorful? Maybe if we connected the dots with multi-colored pens (like the massive collection my sister has stashed away for her note-taking enjoyment), we would pay better attention to the in-between joys of life.
The dot vs. line idea is not a matter of what you’re experiencing, but instead how you are experiencing it. It is a matter of perspective, and can be enhanced by a spontaneous willingness to be amazed by life. Open your eyes and don’t let a single moment pass you by. Ask yourself: What makes this moment important? What can I enjoy about right now? What makes this point in time more than just a means to an end?
To put these thoughts in perspective, consider this story. Only a matter of weeks ago now, the two-stoplight town which I call home lost one of its star students and athletes to a car crash at only 17. I think what struck me most was not the sense of sadness which came rumbling into our world like a thunderstorm rolling towards us. No, not that. It was the surprise. The disbelief and the denial. The thought that life certainly couldn’t just end so suddenly. Surely a blink off the eye couldn’t pass which made life appear so changed upon the opening once more. Surely our existence is more permanent than that. Surely the pen with which we draw our lives can’t reach the edge of the page so quickly.
But, that is the story. And if one is to live a dot-to-dot-to-dot existence, would you not be lead to think that his life was left unfinished? He didn’t get to complete all of the big “dot” events in his life, no doubt. Many things which we hope and dream that the children of this world will do someday will forever be unfinished for him. He will never connect all of those dots.
And that is why it is so important to live in the lines. None of us are guaranteed the whole picture. But living in the lines gives you so much more ink on the page, so much more substance in the time you are given to draw your picture and leave your image on the page. If you look at how he lived his life, you may not see the completion we all hope for. But there is an image on that page that is nonetheless artistic, expressive, and memorable. He left behind more than a collection of dots because he lived every day with meaning – he lived between the dots.
With that in mind, let me also encourage you to take every opportunity to live with punctuated, outrageous spontaneity! While I have been encouraging you to draw the lines of your life with the multicolored hues of appreciation, it is equally important to enjoy the dots when your pen arrives at those major destinations. Maybe we should toss away the lines and dots altogether. Maybe it would be best if we simply lived with continuity, ALWAYS experiencing things fully. Even if that means experiencing laziness with full appreciation for the fact that you have the time and motivation to be lazy (what an oxymoron that is!) Anything you do in life will add to the picture you are creating. How do you want the colors to combine? Which shades would you rather see more or less prevalent?
Yes, life will always have moments that seem more like dots and more like lines. But, strive for color in those elements. Strive for a picture with more HUE than STRUCTURE. Don’t live a dots-and-lines existence. Live a shades-and-tints experience.
As you build on tomorrow, it is important to recall that you are ALWAYS building. Even in between the dots.