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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Last Words

Some time ago, I heard a choral piece that I had never heard before. The music, written by a contemporary composer, was deeply moving, evoking the gravity of the last seven words spoken by Christ from the cross. Whatever your personal belief may be, it would be hard to imagine a more compelling moment--to witness this cruel death. But that is not the subject of today’s post. Instead, what struck me as I listened to the choir and soloists was the phrase, last words.

I thought about instances in my life when an exchange I had with someone were indeed the last words—either because we never met again or because they were lost to me. It may not surprise you that in some of those instances I had cause for regret. There was so much more I might have said or wished I had the presence of mind to convey but had not. And in a few cases my last words or those of others did not reveal our best nature. They were words spoken in frustration or even in anger. I am glad there were not too many of those, but even one is more than I wish had transpired.

Because we are human the way we think and operate is bounded by some perplexing ideas about time, the consequences of our actions, and the nature of relationship. That is what I wanted to talk about today.

On the subject of time we often display an inherent contradiction in our thinking. On the one hand we can blithely say ‘life is short’ to justify taking some action that may be controversial or outside our usual boundaries. If we truly believed this wouldn’t we live our lives differently every day? Whether life is really short, or interminably long is a subjective impression. But, however we may perceive it, living it with intentionality would seem to be important. If we lived as though tomorrow was not a foregone conclusion we might hold our relationships, casual or deep, in much higher esteem. If we knew we might never see someone again, would we really want to leave them with unresolved issues, hurt feelings, or pain? Wouldn’t we want our last words to be loving and comforting?

There are times when we minimize the consequence of our words—as if they are of less weight and substance than our actions. This notion is embraced in the saying that actions speak louder than words. But who among us has not felt the sting of rebuke, the pain of rejection, or the caress of loving acceptance? Words have weight and are as real, or more so, than what we do in many instances. They convey our noblest sentiments and our basest instincts—sometimes without our conscious awareness. And perhaps the cruelest words are those unspoken—words of forgiveness, words of acceptance, words expressing our truest and noblest feelings. Withholding those words, consciously or otherwise, can be the greatest cause of regret.

When we talk and think about relationships—those we have with our selves, with others, and with our highest self, the being that dwells within us that I refer to as God, we sometimes have a one-dimensional sense that they are fixed pieces, unchanging. Experience alone should tell us otherwise. Relationships can ebb and flow, evolve or devolve depending on the effort and feelings we put into them. In some cases, our relationships can become toxic to the point of parting forever from someone or something in an acrimonious temper. We tend our relationships with words and gestures. Those thoughts and actions that display our love and care for others nurture deep feelings of well-being for us and for those to whom they are directed. In a similar fashion, words of rejection, hurt, or anger can cause both emotional and physical pain in another. They are terrible weapons that wield and knowing this we should be extremely circumspect about using them—yet all too often in the heat of a moment we forget and the words are out before we have thought about the consequences.

This line of thinking has had a profound impact on me of late. I have been far more conscious of the weight of my words and how I want to leave someone. I imagine that I may not have the opportunity to see them again and find that I choose my words more carefully, as if they were my last.

I want to suggest that thought experiment to you. Try it for a day. Live your life as if the things you say were the last words by which you and your relationship with others will be remembered. It will change you for the better.

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