I think pretty much everyone ever has heard of Karl Marx. I feel as if I’ve heard his name several thousand times over the course of my life in school, but maybe it’s just me. He’s the father of Marxism (obviously) which is basically socialism. His ideas have been some of the most influential in history, what with ultimately creating the Soviet Union, which subsequently lead into the emergence of other socialist/communist countries. When asked if he had anything to say before he died, Marx replied, “Last words are for people who haven’t said enough.”
I think Marx’s last words are great simply because they’re incredibly quotable. It’s one of those sayings that you can’t help but agree with, and hope that on your own deathbed you can think of something similar that is unplanned yet profound. Of course, Marx was most likely talking about people who actually plan out what they’re last words are going to be, or those who say whatever meaningful bit of perceived ingenuity comes to mind at the time. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to plan out dying words, because the living generally put a fair amount of significance on people’s last words. After all, I dedicated this blog to writing about them. And I’m pretty sure a lot of last words were preconceived. I think it’s a good call to action on Marx’s part. It’s kind of of a putdown to those who have come up with last words to say. But who’s to judge? In my book, it’s never too late to say what you need to say.
Lawrence Oates is most commonly known for his participation in the failed mission to the South Pole: the Terra Nova Expedition. Oates grew up in England and went into the military after briefly going to school. He was promoted to Captain by age 26, showing remarkable courage and unwillingness to surrender. In the Terra Nova expedition, he was one of four men chosen to walk the last 167 mile stretch to the South Pole. Though they had hoped to be the first explorers there, a team of Norwegians had beaten them to it 35 days before. On the return journey, the group of five men suffered very harsh conditions. Oates in particular was having a difficult time because of scurvy, as well as frostbite on his feet. The team was falling behind schedule,and food was beginning to run out, but they refused to leave Oates behind, even when he offered to remain in his sleeping bag. However, on March 17, exactly 32 years after his birth, Oates said to his comrades, “I am just going outside and may be some time,” and then walked into the -40 degree blizzard.
Lawrence Oates was a man among men. Although none of the others made it back alive, Oates is remembered for his self-sacrificing deed. I think one of the things that connects us as humans are the real life acts of heroism and selflessness that we see in stories such as Oates’, or for example the man who died shielding his girlfriend during the Colorado movie theater shooting. I think self-sacrifice is the utmost form of kindness that anyone can perform because it goes above and beyond what is expected. Through these stories we know humans are capable of incredible things. It’s truly heartwarming to know there are people in this world who have the strength in them to give themselves completely for others, and why amidst the crazy modern world we can still appreciate and take pride in the courage of the human spirit.
“I’m still learning.” These were the parting words of famous Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo. This man died at the ripe old age of 88, quite a feat considering it was 1564 and people were lucky if they made it past 40. Being a sculptor, artist, engineer, architect, and poet, Michelangelo brought a plethora of beauty to the 1500s. For such a revered figure during his time and through to the present day, his last words only seem to emphasize the greatness that he brought into the world. He rivaled Leonardo da Vinci as the “Man of the Renaissance”. As a man of many trades, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he would say something intelligent on his deathbed.
Personally, I think Michelangelo is one of the coolest dudes that has ever lived. In fact, if I had lived during the Renaissance, I definitely would have dated him if given the chance. Anyways, I think this quote is particularly amazing because it’s an accurate statement for anyone living on planet earth. There will always be something new to learn no matter how long someone lives. Being skilled in a variety of areas, Michelangelo was learning his entire life. And depending what happens when a heart stops beating… he’s probably still learning after death with everyone else that has died. Death is an experience that only those who are dead know, and everyone is able to gain that knowledge. What use it is has yet to be known. But the point is that we’ll have that knowledge, and that’s really all that matters.
Christine Chubbuck was an average American woman. Educated in broadcasting and a volunteer in her community, it seemed as if her life was going in a pretty good direction. She was hired as a reporter for a local news channel in Sarasota, Florida, and had her own talk show. What may not have been apparent was Chubbuck’s severe depression. Caused mainly by a lack of intimate relationships, she had a hard time making friends with other people and was unsuccessful at dating. This may have started at an early age, when in her all girls high school she created a group known as the “Dateless Wonder Club.” In the summer of 1974, Chubbock requested doing a piece for her talk show on suicide, asking local police common and effective ways of ending one’s own life. Previously, one of her shows had been cut for coverage of a shooting, prompted by the manager for a focus on “blood and guts.” One morning in July, Chubbuck read off a newscast, then said, “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide,” right before she shot herself in the head.
To me, stories like these are always tragically fascinating. Christine Chubbuck was only 30 years old, but to her, a future seemed so bleak that she decided to end all possibility of having one. And this is mainly because she felt inadequate for being able to make meaningful relationships with other people. While Chubbuck made a statement by shooting herself on public television, what she also tried to communicate was that showing “blood and guts” for the sake of gaining more viewers was not conducive to promoting a sound community. Her grim lash at the manager’s decision in her last words may have had a good point. That tipping the balance in favor of grotesque news may end up having a very negative effect.
As far as last words go, I think John Sedgwick takes the cake for having the most comical and ironic. He was an officer during the Civil War, murdered by a sharpshooter before a battle with the Confederacy. Sedgwick was well liked and well known by his men and officers. Being the highest ranking casualty in the Union, apparently even Confederate general Robert E. Lee was saddened by Sedgwick’s death. Before he died, he was chastising his men for flinching at single-fire Confederate gunshots. Sedgwick was quoted saying “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance,” seconds before being shot below the eye.
It seems that Sedgwick had not grasped the concept of Murphy’s law: what can go wrong, will go wrong. Everyone is guilty of this at some point. Carelessness, or just choosing to ignore the fact that things may very well take a turn for the worse, can have fatal consequences. And while this may cause people to pass judgment on whomever is being careless, this doesn’t determine their character. Unless the person doesn’t learn from their mistakes. Then perhaps one can pass some sort of judgment. However, many people, such as John Sedgwick, are unable to learn from their mistakes. In that case, and really in all cases, I think it’s fair to say that we’re just human and things will turn out how they’re going to turn out.
We know him from the pool game we all played as kids in the summer, and from the ambiguous fact that he traveled to distant places. But what else do we know about the iconic Marco Polo? He was born to a wealthy merchant family in Venice, Italy, and when he was 17, traveled with his father and brothers to the far East. They went to China, where emperor Kublai Khan eventually appointed Polo to help with business. There, Polo traveled around on various missions. Among his travels were present day China, Turkey, India, Sri Lanka, and Mongolia, all of which he wrote about, and then some. While Marco Polo’s book may be able to give us a look into what he witnessed in the many foreign places he went to. However, when he died of old age, he parted with the words, “I have not told half of what I saw.”
I think this is a great quote in that it emphasizes the difference between what goes into books and what we experience in life. As people come back from vacations, they usually give a brief account of what they did, who they met, and any interesting stories along the way. But what people don’t tell is how that place, those people, or that experience affected them, their views, opinions, or actions. People experience so many different things on so many different levels in reality and it’s near impossible to really tell what happened. A lot of the experience is lost in the translation to spoken word or to a book, and can only truly be seen for what it is if someone does it themselves. This is why it’s important to get out and experience things for ourselves, because no matter how many stories we read about other people’s experiences are, it’s not going to paint the complete picture.
Nathan Hale was an American soldier during the Revolutionary War, who, at age 20 joined the army and was appointed as a first lieutenant. However, he stayed behind when his militia battled in the Siege of Boston, allegedly because he was unsure whether he wanted to fight in the war (others suggest a teaching contract he had didn’t expire until a few months later). Although he never physically fought, he was a volunteer for a mission to gather information about the movement of British troops. He was the only volunteer for this mission. Alas, while behind enemy lines, Hale was caught when he spoke to another man who was disguised as a fellow patriot. Hale was taken into custody and awaited his hanging when he was 21. On the day he was to die, he gave an eloquent speech about his patriotism and reasons for helping the Americans in the fight, concluding with the words “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
Hale has been regarded as a hero, particularly in his birthplace, Connecticut, having multiple statues created in his honor. It’s pretty easy to see why, given that patriotism has generally been seen throughout American history as a courageous and noble quality. His last words seem to put him in a place of even higher esteem, due to the fact that he is saying he would completely give himself over to his country, not once, but many times. This show of humility and devotion to the cause and country has been prized as an American value for centuries. Though in recent decades, it seems as though levels of patriotism have slightly diminished, or are at least more difficult to detect. True, we aren’t establishing ourselves as an independent country anymore, but it also may have to do with the fact that our country as a whole seems more cynical of our government and evolving culture. All the same, when it comes down to it, America’s foundation is built on patriotic values which have driven us forward to where we are today.
Kurt Cobain. The name is iconic and tossed around among rockers everywhere. The lead singer, guitarist, and the main songwriter of the band Nirvana was one of the revolutionaries of the grunge rock era. His life in a way paralleled his music with its in-your-face, chaotic, and depressing aspects. Cobain was more often than not uncomfortable with the way his followers and the world saw him and his band’s music, and later struggled with a heroin addiction before he shot himself at age 27. He left a suicide note, on which, before his I love you’s he wrote: “…it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
It may sound cheesy to us in this day and age, but he died in 1994 and may as well have had the right to coin that phrase. To me, these words are a romantic notion that fits for someone who was artistic grunge junkie like Cobain. However, I don’t know if I agree with his words. On one hand, it’s often a fantasy in one’s youth to go out with a cause, and to be glorified for being great or influencing the world in some way. Many people idealize those who have gone out burning because they are such icons and are deemed worth following. By societal tendencies, these people are mimicked. On the other hand, the majority of the world strives to live until they are physically unable to do so, and this goal has seemed to work out for them. We all have difficulties in life, yet accept it because being alive is basically all that we have to stand for.
But the beauty of it is that everyone is different. Maybe in another time Cobain would have lived a long and happy life with his wife and child. No matter how someone thinks they should go about ending, or preserving life, I think we can all appreciate our ability to make the choice.
Marie Antoinette, officially known as Marie-Antoinette-Josephe-Jeanne d’Autriche-Lorraine, was the last queen of France before the French Revolution took place. She lived a luxurious lifestyle and was one of the people who provoked the revolution. This was due to her extravagant lifestyle, apparent ignorance of the commoners’ poor situation, and of a scandal involving an expensive necklace, which caused the public to lose trust in the monarchy. Soon, the ball of hatred, distrust, and resentment for the monarchy led Marie and her husband Louis XVI to the executioner’s block. As Marie Antoinette ascended the stairs to the guillotine, she accidentally stepped on the executioner’s foot, saying to him “Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it.”
Apologizing for stepping on the foot of the man who is about to behead you and who probably didn’t care that you stepped on him in the first place seems ironic to me. However inconsiderate she might have been to France as a whole, her upbringing instilled within her the courtesy of apologizing for her (minor) mistakes. As one of the primary representatives (and a popular fashion icon) for the country, Marie Antoinette was viewed by a majority of the public as a stereotypically shallow and uncaring ruler. Hence the revolution. Although convicted and executed for treason of the people, what really went on in the mind and what the intentions of the fashionable ruler were may never be known.
You may be asking, “Who the hell is François Rabelais?” I would have said the same thing had I not read Looking for Alaska by John Green, where he used Rabelais’ last words as one of the center themes for the novel (oh, and the protagonist’s hobby just happened to be researching the last words of every person he could find). Apparently Rabelais was a French Renaissance writer, doctor, scholar, etc., but his last words are what intrigue me. They were: “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”
Of course, when someone is dying, they can always hope to ascend to green pastures and blue skies, or to wake up in a new life in their ideal form, or maybe just to lie peacefully six feet underground with the dirt and grubs. However, no one really knows what’s about to happen. I believe Rabelais’ words are not only an accurate statement of what may be coming, they are also a beautiful choice of words. He doesn’t overemphasize the “Great,” which leaves the options of death open, in that it may be great… or greatly terrible. I also like “Perhaps” as a noun because it’s a term that gives no definitive answer and leaves countless options open for whatever is in his future. I also like that he’s “seeking” the Great Perhaps, and not just being passive about his death. François Rabelais may not have been a superstar in the Renaissance, but he got it right in the end.