Last words

This is the latest in a series of essays titled “Man Has Premonition of Own Death.”

You know you’re about to die. What could you possibly say? Emily Dickinson, my favorite poet, who wrote such chilling and beautiful poems about death, had this to say just before she died: “I must go in, the fog is rising.”  
Thomas Edison, when he died in 1931, uttered these encouraging words:
“It is very beautiful over there.”

On the other hand, I’ve read that Louis B. Mayer, the film mogul, offered this commentary as he passed into that movie set in the sky: “Nothing matters,” and let’s hope his comment was not based on something he saw just before he could see no more.

Henry David Thoreau, of course, muttered two words just before he became transcendent in 1862. “Moose…Indian…” You’d expect something a bit more telling from the man who urged us to beware all enterprises requiring new clothes – I wonder if Emerson and Alcott and the others bought new clothes for Thoreau’s funeral?

I’ve read that Queen Elizabeth I said, just before her passing, that she would give up all of her earthly possessions for just one more “moment of time.” Just one moment!

And I’ve read that a man named Robert Alton Harris, just before he went to the gas chamber in California in 1992, declared: “You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everyone dances with the Grim Reaper!”

If and when Death comes calling for me, if I feel like talking about or have anything interesting to say, I hope I’ll be able to offer words of comfort to my friends and families. Maybe I’ll see something that confirms that there is an afterlife, that there is a heaven, and that it’s a good place to be – not like what Brueghel saw, more like what Edison apparently glimpsed.

A few years back a friend was going to be seeing Allen Ginsberg and I gave this friend a book for the famous poet to sign. It was a collection of letters exchanged by Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, but that’s not what matters. What matters is what Ginsberg wrote: “To Nick: AH! Allen.”

I think Ginsberg was referring to the quest for spiritual bliss. I think “Ah!” is what one might exclaim at the sight of it. Here’s hoping that when I die, I feel the urge to exclaim “Ah!”

 

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