Space is something that I find truly marvelous in the most literal sense of the word. Like these tributes to Opportunity that I can’t even read without tearing up. It’s a gosh darn robot, and I can’t handle it. Even the Spotify playlist created to wake up Oppy is tear-jerking to me. Last words, in any sense, have that effect, don’t they?
There’s a deep level of importance ascribed to last words in both Western and Eastern cultures. As such, the last words that tend to get recorded are the ones that best meet the cultural trends of the time. In many Eastern religions, there’s an expectation that last words will be insightful, delivered with gravitas and otherworldly perspective. Western culture–particularly with the advent and spread of Christianity–typically calls on a higher power, repentance of sin, and a plea for forgiveness.
The difference in these approaches to death is interesting: are you at peace and ready to move on, or are you terrified that your life hasn’t been enough to get you into heaven? But that’s a topic for someone more philosophical than me. Suffice to say, the essential dilemma of life, when faced with mortality, is that either you’re at peace with the time you’ve been given, or you realize you need more.
Because I gravitate a little more to the less grand, less sweeping kinds of last words. No bedside declarations or call-outs to a higher power for me. My list of famous last words is dedicated to the incidental, inconsequential, sometimes intentional. Death is the great inevitable end to everyone’s life, and it doesn’t matter what you did during your time on this particular plane of existence.
Last Words to Live By
“Because the soup is getting cold.” Leonardo da Vinci
One of the best books I’ve read of late is Walter Isaacson’s biography of the *maestro,* Leonardo da Vinci. It uses his notebooks as a kind of journey map through his life and his work, and ends with his final note about setting down his pen, as “…the soup is getting cold.” It’s a seemingly ignominious note to include in such an illustrious company.
But to me, it gets to the heart of humanity. Life is made of up many inconsequential moments and events. Conversations, contemplations, meals, and the other things that make up a day. And putting down your pen in favor of a warm meal is a lovely metaphor for finding the value where it resides when it matters most.
“This is funny…” Doc Holliday
So many old west characters died with their boots on, except this one. Despite living the gunslinger life, and doing his best to die in any other way than the agonizing suffocation of TB, Doc died in a bed. With his boots off, mind you. Memorialized as the character with the most classic lines in “Tombstone” might be some consolation?
It’s a reminder that things don’t always play out in the manner that we think they will. And that it’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 that with which my personification imbues it. Maybe it’s my interest in space and a bit of nostalgia and sentimentality that makes me very sad about this.
Opportunity Rover landed on Mars in January 2004, and its mission was deemed complete in February 2019. It was only expected to make it 90 days on Mars, not 15 years. Oppy captured the imagination of the planet over that time, though, and is considered one of NASA’s most successful ventures. Not a bad legacy for the little robot that could.
I’m going to throw out an honorable mention for fictional characters, in a movie that I really loved but haven’t found many others who share my love. “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is hilarious and poignant, even if the pace moves a little awkwardly at times.
But it’s the final exchange that perfectly sums up that essential dilemma of life:
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.Seeking a Friend for the End of the World