“Say always what you feel, not what you think. If I knew that today is the last time that I am going to see you asleep, I would hug you with all my strength and I would pray to the Lord to let me be the guardian angel of your soul.”
Garcia Marquez’s poignant farewell to the world led me to reflect on the energy and intent of last words: those you say, and those you hear. When my son, Thibault, was a soldier in the British Army, preparing for a grueling tour of Afghanistan, he was instructed to write a letter to his next of kin, that I would receive in the event of his death. Thank God, I never got to read it. He was also told: “Whenever you talk to your mother make sure the last thing you say to her is “I love you” as it might be the last time you ever speak to her and she’ll treasure those words.” Thibault has never lost that habit, although he left the Army two years ago; he still ends every call and every visit with “I love you Mum” to which I respond “I love you too.” His Army sergeant was right, I do always treasure those words and the intent beneath them.
Last week, I read a profoundly moving debut novel “The View on the Way Down” by Rebecca Wait, about that worst of wounds: when a loved one commits suicide, and the tendency of the bereaved to ruminate and obsess about last words spoken and unspoken, heard and unheard, in what I can only imagine is a truly terrible torture. I have nothing but pity for Mick Jagger and his prescient song lyrics:
Well this could be the last time
This could be the last time
Maybe the last time
I don’t know. Oh no. Oh no.
What if this was the last time? If I asked myself this question every day, what would change? Not just on the big life and death questions, but in the course of my daily life – in my work, and my central relationships, with my husband and children? I recall a conversation with my husband on a work related matter. I was leading a team on a project that had scale and complexity; and it was presenting me with several tricky questions. When I asked his advice, he said: “How would you do this if you knew it was going to be the last project you did?” I instantly knew the answer, what I would do if this was my last chance professionally. Although that didn’t make it exactly easy, the clarity allowed me to free my judgements and decisions from the many distractions that can easily take on unwarranted importance.
Whatever you do today, if you knew you were doing it for the last time, what difference would it make to the way that you do it?