Yesterday, as I was blog-hopping, I happened upon a site named Andrew Olmsted where the words “Final Post” caught my attention. The post begins:
This is an entry I would have preferred not to have published, but there are limits to what we can control in life, and apparently I have passed one of those limits. And so, . . . I must say here what I would much prefer to say in person. I want to thank hilzoy for putting it up for me. It’s not easy asking anyone to do something for you in the event of your death, and it is a testament to her quality that she didn’t hesitate to accept the charge. As with many bloggers, I have a disgustingly large ego, and so I just couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to have the last word if the need arose. Perhaps I take that further than most, I don’t know. I hope so. It’s frightening to think there are many people as neurotic as I am in the world. In any case, since I won’t get another chance to say what I think, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. Such as it is.
What I don’t want this to be is a chance for me, or anyone else, to be maudlin. I’m dead. That sucks, at least for me and my family and friends. But all the tears in the world aren’t going to bring me back, so I would prefer that people remember the good things about me rather than mourning my loss. (If it turns out a specific number of tears will, in fact, bring me back to life, then by all means, break out the onions.) I had a pretty good life, as I noted above. Sure, all things being equal I would have preferred to have more time, but I have no business complaining with all the good fortune I’ve enjoyed in my life. So if you’re up for that, put on a little 80s music (preferably vintage 1980-1984), grab a Coke and have a drink with me. If you have it, throw ‘Freedom Isn’t Free’ from the Team America soundtrack in; if you can’t laugh at that song, I think you need to lighten up a little. I’m dead, but if you’re reading this, you’re not, so take a moment to enjoy that happy fact.
His words are also posted at Obsidian Wings, a site maintained by one of his friends.
You see, Andrew Olmsted was also known as Major Olmstead. He was killed in Iraq on January 3, 2008, the victim of a sniper. He was trying to talk three insurgents into surrendering when he was struck down. Last July, after he was deployed, he finalized his thoughts and entrusted his final message to his friend, with instructions to post it if he were to be killed while serving the United States.
In an English class, I was once assigned the task of writing a final letter to my family. I remember thinking that I did not have a lot to say. I was young, single, childless and completed the assignment in the manner you might expect — I wrote a letter to my parents, thanking them for all the sacrifices they made for me and my sister.
Major Olmsted’s words made me think about what I would say today if I were to compose a message to be published upon my death.
All of us have spent a few moments wondering what the world would be like without us. We’ve all pondered whether anyone would actually miss us, how our families would function without our presence, who would take on all the responsibilities that we bear on a daily basis.
Once you become a parent, an appreciation of your own mortality accompanies the realization that you have full responsibility for the totally vulnerable little person you have brought into the world. Close calls on the freeway or hearing about someone killed in a horrible accident or felled by a terrible disease, leaving young children behind, are among the events that remind us from time to time as the years pass by that we no longer live just for ourselves. Nowhere is the phenomenon demonstrated more poignantly or lovingly than at Toddler Planet where WhyMommy has been writing about her battle to defeat inflammatory breast cancer. Every post is permeated with hope and determination to survive — in order to raise her two adorable little boys.
Last week, one of those Hollywood news television shows reported that legitimate news organizations have prepared an obituary for Britney Spears. That practice is standard with respect to elderly or ailing public figures — the necessary research is conducted and a draft obituary readied in advance, with the details added at the appropriate time so that publication can be swift.
However, I was horrified when I heard the report about Ms. Spears. Frankly, I don’t know whether I was more repulsed by the revelation that members of the media have engaged in the writing exercise or that tabloid journalists publicized that fact.
Lastly, this past Friday, January 18, 2008, was the anniversary of my father’s death. On that day, I found myself thinking about his legacy, of which I am, of course, a huge part.
The cliche is true: Life provides no guarantees. Like Major Olmsted, our time here on earth could end quickly and unexpectedly. Any of us could succumb to a form of mental illness that would impact our ability to continue writing. For those folks like my father, who had a quintessential “iron will” to live, no number of years is enough — even when death is imminent and inevitable, its arrival still seems sudden and shocking.
So if you were to write a final blog post, a letter to your family or a last statement to be published in the event of your death, what would you say? What wisdom would you share? What feelings would you express? To whom would you address the words that are likely to be deemed the most important or memorable writing you ever did?
How would you compose the last chapter of your written legacy? I think it is a question that every writer can benefit from pondering from time to time.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. thought about his own legacy. He acknowledged numerous times in his writings and speeches that his life could be cut short because of his work. Ironically, he gave a speech in Memphis the very night before he was assassinated, April 3, 1968, in which he revealed that he was at peace with that knowledge, bolstered by his faith. Did he have a premonition? Consider his words: “I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.”
On this day, we commemorate Dr. King — his life, his accomplishments, his legacy. Let’s also commemorate Major Olmsted’s sacrifice and the service to our country of all men and women — including my own father who served honorably in the Pacific Theatre during World War II — throughout the world over the years. And let’s light a candle for all those who are struggling to overcome all kinds of adversity, including WhyMommy who is undergoing surgery in a couple of days. Because our most important legacy is, of course, our humanity and the manner in which we live out our humanity by caring for each other.