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I've been thinking about last words a lot lately. Not my own, mind you. I plan to live a long and healthy life, so my own last words are far from my mind right now. Besides, knowing me, my last words will most likely be something like, "See? I told you I was sick!"
No, I'm talking the historical last words. You know, the well-known utterances of famous types, those last little nuggets of wisdom spoken just before they slid off into the inky blackness of the Great Beyond. For instance, Andrew Jackson is reported to have said "I hope I may meet you all later in Heaven" with his last gasps of breath to his assembled family members and servants. Profound. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, after days of fever-induced confusion, had a final moment of lucidity and said, "Let us cross over the bridge, and rest under the shade of the trees a while." Deep.
The reason I've been thinking about last words is, what would happen if someone uttered what they thought were their last words, then didn't die right away? Wouldn't that put them in something of a pickle?
I mean, think about it: Here you are, prepared to meet your maker, and so you say the final words of your life, knowing someone will note them and judge your life in part upon their profundity. You've practiced these words your whole life, crafting them as your sickness progressed, until you were finally convinced they were final words for the ages, poetic in their lyricism and yet profound for their simplicity. Feeling that special cold chill, you say these special words, then rest your head gently on your pillow waiting for the Angel to Death to come claim you...only to realize the chill was because some idiot left your window open. Ah, shit. Now what?
The problem now is what do you do with your final words, or any further words for that matter? Do you lay in your bed, mute, waiting for death to finally overcome you so your last words will, in fact, be your last words? God forbid you actually recover, though. You'd run the risk of people forgetting your little speech altogether, then being put on the spot to come up with something equally wise.
Do you speak again, running the risk that death ambush you and your last words is something stupid, like "I'll take marmalade," because the nurse just happened to ask you what you'd like on your toast that morning? Not like you'd be remembered for your poetic so called-last words, so instead your life in this case would be forever linked to a tasty jam-like concoction.
Or do you try to trot out the same old soliloquy the next time you feel death approaching and hope no one notices? This, to my mind, would be something like wearing the same pair of underwear too many days in a row, and people would be just as likely to notice. I rather think they'd even be a tad pissed, and demand something better, like an audience who paid to see Shakespeare and instead is shown the local high school's spring play.
Just imagine the picture. Stonewall recovers briefly, but again slides deep into a deadly fever. Feeling death creeping upon him, he gathers his friends, family, and staff near, and whispers, "Let us pass--" only to have someone say, "Yes, yes. We've heard that one before. Give us something fresh this time, Tom!"
Final words seem a bit trickier than we give them credit for being. Our ancestors must have been on the ball at all times, ever-prepared with something full of both personal and global meaning, because life back then was precarious at best.
Still, you have to admit there is a certain romance of the final words, unforeseen difficulties and all. Maybe they had it right all along. Of course, there's no reason we necessarily need to follow all the musty, dusty traditions of those earlier ages, with final words dripping with significance and wisdom. Screw that shit, let's liven it up a little!
Why not say sit up suddenly and say, "Duck!" for no particular reason? If you're not in the playful mood, you could always go with the ever popular, "Shit, I forgot to pay the insurance." That one's always sure to be memorable. If you feel like kicking off a little family controversy, you could turn to the closest relative and whisper, "Why did you poison me?" Or, for those of a darker mind, you can always point to a far corner and scream "Who is that black skeleton with the giant scythe?!!" Perhaps better only to do that if no one with you has a heart condition, however, or else there may be two funerals to plan.
But in the end (no pun intended) I guess it's not so much we say to our loved ones upon our death; it's what we say to them throughout our lives. And that, my friends, is the last word