So, right off the bat I’m going to give you a head’s up. This piece is NOT about the salty, fried goodness that the title may have led you to believe. In fact, the title is a complete sentence. “French” being the noun and “Fries” being the verb. Wow, I’m only three sentences in and I’ve already wandered off topic. Sorry about that. I hope I haven’t bored you yet, as my subject material today is “really exciting”. And by “really exciting”, I mean “excessively morbid”. So, on that note I’d like to introduce today’s topic: “Last Words”.
[“Last Words? You mean like, “Go ahead, shoot. You couldn’t hit the side of a barn”?”]
Well, yeah, I guess. But I’m trying to be serious here, sort of.
I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of “Last Words”. It seems to me that these words offer a deep glimpse into the soul of an individual and what makes that person tick. Of course, that might be kind of a moot point, seeing as how that person is about to drop dead. But it’s something, I suppose.
Sometimes those words reveal fear or panic. Understandable, for sure, since somebody is about to die. Other times you might get words of wisdom, as sometimes shown by a person on their deathbed. And then, every once in a while you’ll get the unexpected. In my view, it is these “unexpected” words that offer the best guidance of what’s really inside someone’s heart.
I believe that the late, not so great, Karl Marx gave us a profound, albeit bitter, bit of wisdom. As he was “in-line-at-the-checkout-counter”, so to speak, while on his deathbed a housekeeper asked if he had any meaningful last thoughts. He said:
“Go away! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.” I believe that Jesus, while hanging on the cross, illustrated Karl Marx’s concept quite well. Jesus was no fool. He had indeed done enough. He had taught enough. He had said enough. As his earthly life was at a conclusion he bowed his head and simply proclaimed: “It is finished”.
Jesus was telling the world that his role of “perfect-sacrificial-lamb” was complete. Once….and…..for all. The world’s sins had now been atoned for. Three days later he raised up giving us new life. Per Romans 10:9, in order to receive this gift, we simply need to confess that “Jesus is Lord” and believe that God raised him from the dead. Then we will have eternal life. If you find yourself in a situation where you are able to knowingly have some last words, may I suggest the words “I believe” if you haven’t already done so. But make sure you do actually believe, otherwise it’s not going to work out so well. Better still, make a confession now, because you might not get a “last chance”.
Having said that, it’s important to note that “last words” come about in a variety of circumstances. A rich source of these come from cockpit voice recorders aboard doomed jetliners. Sometimes these words will be desperate conversations between crew members as they frantically try to save their lives and the lives of the passengers. These words illustrate how precious life is and how hard people will fight to keep it. Every once in a while, sudden catastrophic failure will reveal that the last words of the crew on board might have been nothing more than a request for a second cup of coffee or a conversation about “What I’m going to do when I get home”. As I said earlier, sometimes you don’t get a “last chance” at “last words”.
Still other times, pilots will have a moment or two between losing control and immediate final impact. Sometimes these final words might be something along the lines of “Ooooohhhh Fuuuuuuudge” (only don’t say fudge). Thank you Gene Shepherd.
This is a bit of an aside, but if you’re leading a lifestyle or have a language pattern that would generate last words such as “oh fudge”, may I politely suggest you examine your heart. You probably don’t want to be remembered for uttering something that would make George Carlin cringe…..but, maybe that’s just me.
Most people that are, on some level, trying to lead a “good” life won’t utter something embarrassing when “the grim reaper” comes knocking.
[“I’m sorry. Did you just say “Grim Reaper”?”]
Yeah. You know, “the dean of departure”, “the prince of passing”, the “good-bye guy”? Would you have preferred I use one of those?
[“What about “The Angel of Death”?”]
Ooooohh, yeah, that’s a good one. I like that. Yeah him. So, like I was saying, “upright” people probably won’t say things that embarrass themselves. Sometimes their words might even bring a smile to your face. For instance, Jimmy Stewart’s last words were:
“I’m going ot be with Gloria now.”
I hope Gloria was his wife. Otherwise that was a really bad example. Sometimes these last words can evoke mystery and intrigue. Steve Job’s last words were “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.” My grandfather was on a lunch break with his boss when the boss says out of the blue:
“I’ll tell you something you won’t believe.”
Then he dropped dead. Perhaps not profound, but at least not embarrassing.
Ok, let me throw a curve ball at you. What kind of words would come out of your mouth if someone was beating you to death? I’d like to think I’d do the “Christian thing” and turn the other cheek, pray for my attackers. That sort of thing. It’s probably a safer bet that I’d weave together a string of profanity that wouldn’t conclude until I arrived at the pearly gates. That would be kind of awkward. Perhaps the example I should be striving for would be that of Stephen in the Book of Acts chapter seven. Stephen is preaching to a group of Jews that is a tad less than receptive. After summing up the history of the Hebrews, Stephen starts to chastise the crowd for rejecting the Messiah, Jesus Christ. At this point the impatient crowd decides that stoning Stephen to death is the appropriate course of action, and so they do. In the midst of his impromptu execution, Stephen calls out to God. Not for his own protection, but for forgiveness to be granted to the very people who are killing him.
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Those were Stephen’s last words. An example of someone who was leading a life that God could be proud of. An illustration of someone who had stored up honor in his heart.
On a personal note, the only time I’ve ever had anyone knowingly say last words to me was in February 2012. My mother-in-law was on her deathbed and when it was my turn to sit with her, she said this to me:
“Be a good father to my grandkids and don’t mistreat [her daughter/my wife].”
And if I didn’t meet those expectations she was going to:
“Come back and haunt [me].”
In full disclosure, I was an abject failure when it came to living up to that proclamation. I’m not sure if the life I’m leading now is the result of her haunting me or if indeed she is holding off on her promise because she sees me worthy of a second chance. The jury is still out on that. (I know this is a theological gray area at best, just go with it.)
My mother-in-law falls into a category of people who, for better or worse, are able to specifically generate traditional “last words”. I stated earlier that this piece was going to be kind of morbid, but here is where we take a turn for the worse. I have found that a rich treasure trove of “planned last words” comes from condemned inmates who are up against their impending execution. You get a wide variety of last words from this bunch. Lots of times they will offer thanks for love and support they have received over the years. Usually to family and friends and sometimes to prison staff as well. Other times you will get people that rail against “the system” or make political statesments. I suppose these people could talk at length on such topics, but their bully pulpit has been “compromised” to say the least. Most of the time, however, you will hear apologies to victim’s families and to their own families. You will hear pleas for forgiveness and attempts to make last minute amends before it is, quite literally, too late. Every once in a while someone that has been maintaining innocence will finally confess. Indeed, confession is good for the soul and as long as you’re still alive, well, it’s never too late for confession.
Then you have a brand of condemned inmates that will “liven” things up a bit (pun intended). As George Appel was about to be executed in a Washington State’s electric chair, he said:
“Well gentleman, you are about to see a baked Appel.”
As Jimmy Glass was about to meet his maker via Louisiana’s electric chair he said:
“I’d rather be fishing.”
It’s debatable, but I would submit that truer words have never been spoken. In 1994 as David Matthews was about to be executed by the State of Oklahoma, he uttered the gloomy, yet darkly comedic phrase:
“I think that the governor’s phone is broke. He hasn’t called yet.”
Perhaps David Matthews would still be with us today if the State of Oklahoma had just paid the damn Verizon bill. Ok, maybe not.
At any rate, this brings me to my favorite case study in “last words”. They are brought to us by a man known as “James French”.
[“I’m sorry, did you say James French?”]
Yes, James French.
If you were paying attention to the title and first paragraph of my little essay you might see where this is going. On August 10, 1966, the warden at Oklahoma State prison asked condemned inmate James French, while strapped into the electric chair, if he had any last words. The condemned man looked at the warden and said, “How’s this for your headline tomorrow? ‘French Fries’.”
I don’t know if Mr. French’s heart was right with God when his time came. Certainly in comparison to Jesus’ “It is finished” statement “French fries” has no eternal value, but from a comedic standpoint, I have to tip my cap. That was pure gold. Still, I think there is a touch of underlying wisdom behind “French fries”.
[“You do? Well, what is it?”]
Well, there are no guarantees in life. Death could come at any moment and in that sense anything you say at anytime could indeed be your “last words”. What are the last words you said to your parents? Your spouse? Your kids? If you were to die today, however you left the last conversation….those would be your last words to them. Perhaps if we treated our everyday conversation as “possible last words”, what comes out of our mouth might sound a bit different.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:34 that what is stored up in the heart comes out of the mouth. It is important to get our heart right and confess things to God that will cause us to say things we don’t want to be remembered for.
As I just stated, James French’s last words don’t have any eternal value, but they at least illustrate that he didn’t seem to harbor any bitterness or resentment or hatred. I imagine he was scared, but his heart allowed him to find a brief moment of joy in an otherwise dire situation.
It’s been said that “He who laughs in the face of death has the last laugh”.
It seems as though, for better or worse, and if nothing else, James had stored up, at least, a small measure of joy in his heart.
Maybe the statement “French fries” shows a little bit of wisdom after all.