May 20, 2022

Famous Last Words to Live By.


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Space is truly marvellous in the most literal sense of the word.

I can’t even read tributes to the Mars rover Opportunity (“Oppy”) without tearing up. It’s a gosh darn robot. After going offline following a planet-wide dust storm in 2018, I found Oppy’s wake-up Spotify playlist to be a real tear-jerker. Last words have that effect, don’t they?

Western and Eastern cultures ascribe deep importance to last words. We memorialize last words that sync with our sociocultural influence. Eastern religions espouse insightful gravitas with an otherworldly perspective. With the advent of Christianity, Western culture typically calls on a higher power, repentance of sin, and pleas for forgiveness.

The difference in their approach to death is interesting. Are you at peace and ready to move on or terrified you haven’t been good enough to get into heaven? Alas, that topic’s for someone more philosophical than me. Suffice to say, life’s essential dilemma in the face of mortality is whether you’re at peace with the time you’ve been given or want more.

I don’t gravitate to grandiose, sweeping last words. No dying declarations or call-outs to a higher power for me. My list of famous last words is dedicated to the incidental, the inconsequential, and sometimes intentional. Death is the great inevitable end—a point when it doesn’t matter what you did during your stay on this particular plane.

“Because the soup is getting cold.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

Walter Isaacson’s biography of the maestro, Leonardo da Vinci is one of the best books I’ve read recently. It uses his notebooks to map the journey of life and work. It ends with a final note about setting down his pen, “…the soup is getting cold.”

It’s a seemingly ignominious notation to include with such illustrious company. To me, it gets to the heart of humanity. Life is made of inconsequential moments, conversations, contemplations, meals, and the other things make a day. Putting down your pen in favor of a warm meal is a lovely metaphor for finding value when it matters most.

“This is funny…” ~ Doc Holliday

Many Old West characters died with their boots on. Not this one. Despite living the life of a fearless gunslinger, doing his best to die in a blaze of glory far from the agonizing suffocation of tuberculosis, Doc died in a bed. With his boots off, mind you. Perhaps being immortalized as “Tombstone’s” most iconic character would have offered him consolation.

It’s a reminder; things don’t always play out how we think they will. That’s fine, because, in the end, it doesn’t matter.

“My battery is low, and it’s getting dark.” ~ Opportunity Rover

Oh, Oppy. The last transmission from the little rover that could break my heart. And if I’m being honest, I don’t know why exactly. It’s not an object with an emotion other than what my personification imbues upon it. Maybe it’s my interest in space, along with a bit of nostalgia and sentimentality that makes me sad.

Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004. Its mission was deemed complete in February 2019. It was expected to make it 90 days on Mars, not 15 years. Oppy captured the imagination of our planet and is considered one of NASA’s most successful ventures. Not a bad legacy for the little robot that could.

One Honorable Mention…

I’m going to throw one out to fiction—a movie I loved but failed to find many who share my sentiment. “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is hilarious and poignant, albeit with awkward pacing at times. Its final exchange sums up life’s essential dilemma perfectly:

Penny: I wish I’d met you a long time ago. When we were kids.

Dodge: It couldn’t have happened any other way. It had to happen now.

Penny: But it isn’t enough time.

Dodge: It never would have been.


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