You’re driving down the highway minding your own business when someone swerves in front of you. Your reaction is to cut left, and you do, right into oncoming traffic. You see headlights, and then nothing. Muffled voices awaken you and you see two paramedics through a haze of pain. They are working feverishly on someone next to you and you see one of them motioning toward you. They’re coming around, they say. No, help me with this one, the other one says, we can save him, maybe. The other one’s a goner.
You’re angry at this dismissiveness until you look down at what’s left of you and realize the paramedic is right. You have maybe 10 or 20 seconds, maybe. You can still speak. You look up at the one that was paying attention to you and say . . .
What? What do you say? Quick, you only have 10 seconds. I’ll wait . . .
Your last words. They’re kind of important, don’t you think? I mean, you don’t want your wife or boyfriend hearing from the paramedic that your last words were Horsely shiiiiiit, wherthafus my legs? If your last words are mediocre at best, no one will remember them. If they’re catchy, wise, or mysterious, you’ll be remembered for a long time. But the worst case scenario, worse than not being remembered, is saying something memorable that is completely stupid. It wouldn’t matter how awesome your life was up to that point. It would be like landing a thousand free-throws in a row, and then missing the basket completely before walking off the court.
So you need to prepare. Come up with your last words now. Or better yet, a set of unique last words for a few different situations. You wouldn’t use the same set of last words for dying after being struck by lightning as you would if you got shot while doing a hooker. Or maybe you would. I’m only saying think ahead. That way you don’t get struck by lightning and tell your golf buddies I never get my money’s worth. It won’t have the same punch if you get them mixed up.
And practice. Ever had some asswipe say something so rude and left-field to you that you couldn’t immediately think of what to say back? Then you walk away wide-eyed and fuming, only thinking of something that would have put them in their place about twenty minutes later. Too late, though. You lost your chance. It’s the same with your last words. There’s a window and then it’s gone forever. But you have less a chance for screwing it up if you practice every day. Take one of my lines, for instance.
When I go, I’m going to pick out one person close to me that I want to freak out, get a far-away look as I stare through them, and say with a slight, knowing smirk, I’ll see you shortly. Doesn’t seem like much at first, but it’ll stick. It will. And when that car swerves over into their lane a little, it won’t be just some incident that needed a horn to correct. That was almost it, they’ll think, as my last words echo in their paranoid mind. Popcorn went down the wrong way for a second in the theatre. An NDE for sure. Death will be lurking in every corner for at least six months, trailing off slowly after that. And even better, if they do kick-off in a few months, then you’ve got your name stirred into the concrete foundation of a new urban myth. Did you hear about that guy in Huntsville that told that nurse he’d see her shortly, and then Boom! someone broke into her house and locked her in her freezer. True story, bro.
So I practice my last words every day. Like on the person at the drive through.
Will that be all, sir?
Yes, I say, staring malevolently at the speaker, and I’ll see you shortly.
Um . . . Yes, sir. Please, pull to the window.
Or after my children tell me goodnight. It’s okay if they don’t understand the big picture, or what I say makes them lock their bedroom doors at night. The main thing is that I’m ready when the time comes.
So as we start off this bright and shiny Summer, remember that death is waiting for you around every corner. Be prepared, and practice often.
I’ll see you shortly.