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Last Words About Last Words

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            A while back I saw some video footage in which a car speeding down the interstate was hit by an airplane tire.

            Not a car tire. A big freaking airliner tire, as big as the car itself, came barreling across the pavement and right into the side of the car. The plane, as you might imagine, was right behind the tire, but from what I could see the driver avoided the rest of the major debris.

            It got me thinking about last words.

            As far as I know the driver of that car survived, and could go on to tell the story as soon as he changed his pants. If he had been killed, I doubt his last words would have been printable in a family publication. In fact, most last words probably amount to some variation of, “Oh, frack”. That’s a fine, descriptive science fiction curse word, right up there with “Shazbot” … but the actual final word would have had only four letters.

            Every now and then, a person’s last words are something to remember … for good reasons, or bad. They could be ironic, such as John Adams’ last words: “Thomas Jefferson survives”.

            This was ironic because Thomas Jefferson passed away a few hours before. They didn’t have phones back then. Can you imagine Adams’ reaction if they had? “What do you mean, he just died? That Jefferson, always stealing the limelight. Sure, I was the second President, but who got to write the Declaration? Who invented the portable desk? I’ll bet they’ll give him a memorial, but me? Nooooo… and now he screwed up my last words.”

            And he would have said all that with his last dying breath, which you have to admit is pretty impressive.

            American Presidents often had interesting last words. James Madison said, ‘I always talk better lying down.” And then he lay down, and stopped talking.

            Millard Fillmore’s were, “The nourishment is palatable.” Okay, so maybe not so interesting, but evidence that the soup didn’t kill him.

            Andrew Johnson: “I need no doctor. I can overcome my troubles.” He was wrong.

            Theodore Roosevelt, before his lights went out? “Please put out the light.”

            I suspect George Washington’s last words were: “Don’t build the new capitol in a swamp! Nothing good will ever come out of it.” If only we’d listened.

            Then there was Civil War General John Sedgwick, whose last words were, “They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance."

            Unfortunately for him, they weren’t shooting at an elephant.

            The last words of most people is a variation of either, “Oh, crap”, or “Hey, ya’ll, watch this!” In both cases the words aren’t very memorable, although the actions often are.

            So, what would my last words be?

            I’d kind of prefer that the last noise I make be a snore, as in I died in my sleep. Barring that it would be nice to have something heroic: “Did I … *cough* … get them out in time?” Or, “I had to save those puppies …”

            Or something that would make literary history, such as, “It was the best of times … until the turn of the century”, or, “I should have written ‘Fifty Shades of Twilight Hunger Games’.”

            Or at least something that ties it up nicely, such as “It was a good life – I accomplished all my goals except for climbing Mount Everest, but it was just too darn cold up there.”

            Yeah – no.

            My last words will be something I wouldn’t want on my tombstone. Here’s a sampling of the possibilities:

“Don’t worry, I shut off the electricity.”

“There’s plenty of room!”

“I think it’s out; let me take a look.”

“I can fix that.”

“I can make friends with any animal!”

“Does this look infected to you?”

I consider that last to be the least likely, because if it is infected, I’ll have time later for my last words to be:

“Guess I should have had that checked out, huh?”

The lesson we should learn from this is not that we should consider carefully our last words. No, it’s that we should just shut up and think before we light that match, hit the gas, or go down into a dark basement when a serial killer’s on the loose.

I’ve at least learned to stop saying those predictors of certain doom: “What could possibly go wrong?” and its cousin, “It could be worse”.

It sure could.

 

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Observation

Having observed many (non-fatal) accidents and injuries, I'm pretty convinced that last words before most sudden deaths are, as you suggest, some form of, "Oh, s--t!!"

I, too like to collect last words, as well as tombstone epitaphs.

If you're interested, here are a couple of pieces I wrote related to this subject: SIGN OFF is a fictional (and mercifully short) poem about a vet's last words, and LATER SHE SAID is a literal transcription of my mohter's final words.  Sorry the link to LATER SHE SAID in the (now defunct) journal "Conspire" no longer works, but you can find the poem HERE, but you'll have to scroll down a bit. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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last words

I didn't have to scroll down very far, Ron!

Your poems, of course, take the matter in a much more serious direction than my column did. And my last words, no matter when and where they happen, are unlikely to be as poetic.