I always pray differently on the tarmac.
Every time I get onto a plane, invariably something happens: I ponder my mortality.
Forget that I’m far more likely to die falling in the shower or driving to get milk. That’s rarely where I consider my own demise. It’s usually just before takeoff, as the roar of the engines drowns out every other sound, and the cabin shakes and I hear the wheels pull up and slam into the floor below me.
Then I really find my religion. Then I have me some serious church.
Ever since I was a boy I’ve been certain I’m going to die on an airplane, and so each time I find myself at liftoff, I imagine that it will all end here; crammed into a glorified high chair, clutching a magazine filled with crosswords puzzles and fluff pieces about the Pacific North West’s craft beer boom. I quickly start to inventory the preceding hours, running through my conversations and interactions. I consider what my last words will have been—and I usually end up wishing I could rewind time and fix things.
When we think about our last words we all normally assume something: we assume we’ll have time to choose them.
Most of us imagine our own death as something we’ll be prepared for; propped up in a bed somewhere surrounded by a semi-circle of our adoring loved ones. We’ll slowly speak the full, carefully planned contents of our hearts to each of them. We’ll right every wrong, repair every fractured relationship, clean every slate, and then slip quietly into the hereafter. We’ll have already properly signed off on social media, written our epitaph, and put a tidy little bow on our time here with a poignant or irreverent one liner to be repeated after we’re gone.
But death is usually a lot less accommodating than that. It usually comes as a rude surprise, interrupting the story of our lives mid-sentence. It decides the final line. Death usually chooses our last words for us.
Yours might be shouted into a speaker at the drive thru or whispered across the living room while you try not to wake the baby. They might be screamed at a stranger in traffic or sent as a emoji-punctuated text to your son or matter-of-factly spoken while you close the door as you head to the grocery store. They might be a Facebook post, a casual Tweet, or snapchat story line.
Do a quick inventory:
What were the last words you said today?
The last words you posted?
The last conversation you had with your spouse?
The last interaction you had with your parents?
Were they worthy?
Would they make a fitting period on the sentence of your life?
As a writer, it sometimes occurs to me that my last words might very well be a blog post—maybe even the one I am writing now.
What would I want to say to you if these were my last words?
I would want to have spoken words of love to you right now; words of healing, words of beauty, words that remind you to choose goodness and wonder, and to keep going.
I would want those words to be encouraging and life-giving and faith affirming;
to be a soft place for those who are used to hardness,
to embrace someone who knows only distance,
to bring a welcome breeze to the arid spaces people find themselves stuck in,
to carry hope to a heart starving for it,
to be words that leave a wake of peace.
Or if nothing that grand, then I’d like them simply to be words that made the world just a little less mean, a little less angry, a little less horrible for someone.
I want my life to matter, to resonate after I’m gone, to reverberate beyond me. I think we all do.
It’s easy for us all to waste words; to get careless, to toss them around without regard thinking we have an endless supply. But our words, like our seconds are finite.
Based on the averages, I’ve supposedly already used around 109 million words so far in this life. That’s a lot of words. I wonder how many of those really mattered. I wonder how many of them were helpful. I wonder how many of them I’ve wasted.
I wonder how many more I’ll get.
Most of us won’t get to decide the last thing people hear from us. All we can do is to decide what the next thing they hear from us will be—what we’ll say, now. We get the chance to speak and write and post and text words worthy of the moment, and hopefully well after it.
Choose these next words well, friends. They may be your epitaph. They may be your sign-off. They may be your last ones. But they will definitely be your legacy, divided into a hundred million small pieces and handed to the people you love and cross paths with.
I’m taking a plane tomorrow, so I’ll be paying close attention to what I say in the morning. I’ll carefully choose the words I speak to my family and to the strangers I encounter, before I find myself once again sitting on the tarmac pleading with God, pondering my mortality as the wheels come up.
I think I’ll be a better version of me than I normally am tomorrow because of it.
This article originally appeared on John Pavlovitz
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