Saying farewell to old friends becomes a more frequent activity as we age, and I have been doing it a lot lately.

Today I am officiating at the funeral of a cousin and kindred spirit and it causes me to reflect.

Here is a man who in his early twenties brought his young wife to New Zealand from Scotland. We share an uncle and so they were quickly adopted into the family.

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Pete was a nurseryman and horticulturalist and was into breeding all manner of plants.

But although men seem to be defined by their occupation for some reason (it seems to be the second statement given after somebody either gives their name or is asked for it), like all of us, Pete was much more than this.

There is a poem becoming more well-known called The Dash by Linda Ellis, and it refers to the hyphen between birth and death dates on a tombstone or service sheet at a funeral.

It is the significance of the years between birth and death that define us and determine whether we are remembered with fondness or otherwise.

Nobody much remembers the dates except those closest to us — unless, of course, the life lived is of such significance the dates become important.

The work we do within communities and the projects we take up are often quoted when we stop through retirement or death. They get referenced at our funerals, and when others recite the war stories of the past.

But so often the direction we take is a continuation of the work of others and adds weight hopefully, not detracting from the work others started.

When starting out on a project and thinking of what got us into the room, it is hard not to reflect on those who lit the fire within us in the first place. Those forebears of the work have skin in the game in which we are about to take a lead.

In the same way our familial forebears have skin in our game. This is our performance as fellow travellers on the planet.

This may seem very fluffy and airy-fairy, but what we say, how we say it and what we do between our birth dates and death dates is all we are.


If all our contribution is is our progeny, but we have no input into who that person becomes, we have no right to claim parentage or patronage — that goes for our contribution to the gene pool and also to the industry in which we commit our life's work, the neighbourhood in which we live, or the organisations to which we belong.

I remember attending the funeral of a local identity and hearing of the decades of service he had given, but there was not a single note of a project he had led, or a contribution he had made accept that he was present.

I wondered what value his membership of all these organisations had really been about. Making up the numbers?

There is a reputational risk in lending your weight to an endeavour — if a huge success, we all bask in its glory and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a job well done; if it comes to nothing, we bear the blame.

But there is also the burden of knowing that we carry the baton passed to us by those who have lent their weight to the wheel in the past.

It makes me conscious that days are not for the wasting. I measure myself against the contribution of others in terms of opportunity and to what extent those opportunities have been used well. It is a tough measure.

Today I will enjoy reflecting on the life of my mate, adopted cousin, and his accomplishments ... the joy he brought to people in the creation of new varieties and hybrids, scents, and colours in the plants and trees he bred.

But also, in the colourful friendships and associations he has made over the 78 years of his "dash".

*Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.