I was actually planning to blog about something totally different today, but about five minutes ago I saw a picture of Neil Patrick Harris on Instagram, which reminded me of How I Met Your Mother…which pissed me off at first (because THE FINALE) but then brought me back to that episode in which Marshall’s dad died of a heart attack. Yep, out of all the hilarious and hilariously awful episodes, that’s the one that I remembered. I’m sorry, my mind just goes off on a thousand tangents at the smallest things. But anyway, in the episode following his father’s death, Marshall struggles to find and accept the final words his father said to him. He thought it was a spoken conversation at first, then it turned out to be a phone call, and then it ended up being a voice mail message. That’s not really the point, though. What’s important was that Marshall kept believing that his father’s last words must have been something particularly poignant. And in the end, it’s not. It’s just him saying something about a video game (or was it a pizza?). So Marshall goes through this sorta cathartic experience of learning that one’s last words don’t really define one’s legacy. It’s probably the only truly somber episode in all nine seasons of HIMYM.
So that got me thinking about death. How cheerful, I know. But really, I think it’s fascinating that we’re so preoccupied with the idea of last words and legacy and returning back to the dirt with a big fucking bang. On the one hand, death is so scary and final that we don’t really wanna think or talk about. But on the other hand, it’s hard not to wonder how we would leave this earth and who would actually remember or miss us. I think we’re less scared about dying than the idea of dying alone and unremembered, which basically indicates that our existence didn’t mean jack shit. John Green talks a lot about this whole dying/existence thing in The Fault in Our Stars, which I beg you to read if you haven’t already.
Anyway, I don’t think we’re being fair on ourselves my putting so much emphasis on the end. I always find it bizarre when people get moved to tears by those cheesy endings to melodramatic movies: when the abusive dad who mistreated his son his entire life lies on his death bed and says some bullshit like, “I should have treated you better,” and then cries a ton and dies. Somehow that makes everything okay and changes his child’s impression of him. Instead of a selfish, violent alcoholic, his dad is now a compassionate, misunderstood man who has always loved his poor kid. The fuck? I just think there’s something so fundamentally fucked up about that logic, about the idea that our last seconds can change an image we spent our entire lives building.
Maybe that’s pop culture’s way of giving us what we they think we deserve – a happy ending in which everyone wins. But I think we deserve better. I think we deserve to know that the lives we lead are meaningful enough that they can’t be undone by a sentence on the death bed. If you’ve been a shitty person your entire fucking life then one final regretful apology is far from enough. If you’ve been an awesome person your whole life then leaving anonymously shouldn’t be a shame at all. Of course it would be fucking legendary (or just fucking morbid) to say, “I want to be choked to death by a goat,” and then actually die like that an hour later. But how many of us actually get to predict our deaths? Movies and books glorify final moments so much that we’re made to believe that our ends are more important than our beginnings and our peaks. I’m not sure that’s the right way to live life.