“Low-sunk life imagines itself weary of life, but it is death, not life, it is weary of.” George MacDonald
“So much wasted time.”
These were one man’s final words as he lay dying. Such sad final words.
Peoples’ last words are often quoted in the hopes that they will provide illumination for those of us still living. Books have been written by hospice workers or those who sit with the dying. This is what will matter to you in the end, they whisper to us. Listen, pay attention, and don’t waste your time on the things that won’t matter. Life coaches suggest we write our own eulogies to get a clearer picture of our life goals. Preachers ask us what people will say at our funerals. “Will they say how clean your house was? Or how many hours you worked?” they ask.
Our finiteness clarifies and cuts through life’s clutter and indecision, but it’s rare that we catch even a glimpse of it in our busy days. Even buying my own grave plot beside my husband at the age of 34 hasn’t helped me maintain this clarity as much as I thought it would.
“So much wasted time.” These were the singer David Cassidy’s last words in November. While we don’t know specifically what he was referring to, those four words are enough. They have remained with me for months.
I don’t think they have anything to do with efficiency or productivity.
Perhaps wasted time being bitter or unforgiving, relationships that could have been life-giving—stunted for years. Wasted time worrying over things that will never happen or things that will, but we still have no control over. Wasted time longing for what we don’t have and completely missing all that is right in front of us. Wasted time seeking after false comforts, maladaptive habits and addictions that deceive us and deprive us of years. Wasted time waiting for the next season, or “just as soon as…” Wasted time wondering, “Should I even try to do this?” Wasted time plotting and planning, making to-do lists, but with no follow-through, no action. Wasted time yearning, critiquing, complaining, and So. Much. Wasted. Time. Scrolling.
I’ve quoted Eli Weisel before in his book, “Open Heart,” when he writes, “Jewish law teaches us that death is not meant to guide us; it is life that will show us the way.” We are always, in all of our great and small choices- choosing life or choosing death. These small “death choices”, whether it’s holding a grudge, remaining enslaved to an addiction, or suffocated by fear, are the true cornerstone of all wasted time.
I have been meditating on another man’s final words in contrast to these. I had attended an IAM conference a few years ago where the poet Christian Wiman spoke. He quoted a poet’s final words that I’ve never forgotten, but looking back in my notes, I wasn’t sure which poet it was. I emailed Mr. Wiman—one of our greatest modern poets—and it was the highlight of my week a couple of months ago when he wrote back and answered my question. It is believed that Gerard Manley Hopkins said on his deathbed, “I am so happy. I loved my life.” What beautiful final words.
Was Hopkins happy that he was dying? Was he delirious? Did he live a morally perfect life or a life free of all sorrow or suffering? None of these are likely. The sense that I get from these powerful last words is that Hopkins could look back over his life and know that in the midst of both struggling and soaring, trial and triumph, he had chosen life, and he was continuing to choose it, even on his deathbed.
It’s a strange pairing: 1970’s pop icon and Victorian poet, but an important framework in which to let “life show us the way.” What does it look like to waste your days? What would it look like to love your life—to treasure it and embrace it even as it unravels in ways that you didn’t expect or plan or feel prepared for? I don’t think I’ll continue to hold onto Cassidy’s words, but I’m certain I won’t forget Hopkins’. “I’m so happy. I loved my life.”
Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: