The Last Word

I have come up with yet another addition to the list of things I want to teach the Twins (who will be 13 months old in a few days – so, lots of time for me to learn this first): it is not necessary to always have the last word. It may not ever be necessary.

I don’t know why we want to be the one who lobs the last bon mot in a conversation. A feeling of superiority? Or, the opposite?

I guess Winston Churchill was pretty good with the one-liners. But, it is my understanding that he had the last word because no one could better him, not because he was already out the door. Apparently, his rhetorical skills were quite a bit better than most around him. Dunno why he is known for that sort of thing; maybe he just took delight in putting people down? Maybe he was just so brilliant that his insight just couldn’t be matched? I’ve enjoyed reading his work and reading about him; but, separated by time and distance, I was never the object of his jabs (anything can be entertaining from afar).

But, most people I know are very much like me: not brilliant, just average. Peers. And most conversations I engage in don’t impact history. So, why must someone else feel the need to have the last word?

Perhaps I am intimidating, and the only way they feel they can balance the books is to throw something hurtful over their shoulder? While I think I am working very hard at not being arrogant, it is the height of arrogance to think I’m humble – I get that.

But, why can’t the last word as you send your husband off to a job you know he hates, and the only reason he does it is to support his family, be something like “I love you,” or “Stay safe,” or “I miss you already”? Something to make me smile as I join the other road warriors on the interstate highway. Instead, I get to spend the next hour, while dodging those whose minds are clearly elsewhere (I don’t know what the guy who rear-ended me last night was thinking), telling myself that what I last heard her say is really not that important.

I know of more than one example where the last word was only not helpful, it was hateful. In these cases, the recipient of the venom died, and the other person went on to live for years. What a hell of a thing to live with, huh? I’m not so morbid as to fire back (as the last word after the last word) something like, “And, I’ll take that to my grave.” Talk about a hateful thing to say.

Jesus Christ said something about going before GOD with the burden of being cross-threaded with someone else (“if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you”; see Matthew 5:23). Since we don’t know when our last breath will be, shouldn’t we be even more careful about what we say? Or would we rather live with knowing our last word to someone left a bad taste in their mouth?  For all eternity.

So, how do I prevent this in myself; and hopefully teach this to my kids?

First, I remember two things I heard while growing up. One, from my mother, “If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything.” The other, from my dad, “If it doesn’t add value, don’t say it.” Fingers from the same glove, I think; but not the same fingers. I might add my own: “Is it helpful?” Is something I say, or do, going to help one other, or many others, or even me, make progress, move closer to GOD? If not, then don’t say it / don’t do it.

Of course, above all, don’t gossip; that goes without saying.

I’m thinking of the opening to “Love, Actually.” People at airports, coming or going. Not being hurtful.

Maybe it would require extra effort to say something nice as a good-bye, even if your heart’s not in it. But it will get easier (thanks to the power of habit). And maybe sincere, eventually. In any event, it would just be better to depart on a positive note. Just better. Not a complex theory. Easy, peasy.

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