It is reported that the last words of John Stuart Mill were, “My work is done.” I have a minor obsession regarding last words. Perhaps, if there is to be a summary of one’s life, it is best captured in the last words, assuming the dying is cogent and a degree of ambition still evident. As I mentioned elsewhere, Hegel’s last words were, “Only one man understood me and he didn’t understand me.” And Henry Thoreau’s were, “Moose…Indian.” My advice to the dying is: Know what you’re going to say before you expire. We’re interested.
Mill’s utterance, “My work is done” crossed my radar this week. It came on the heels of a friend making the comment, “If you wrote a book, I’d read it.” You cannot imagine the import of these two phrases colliding as they did in space and time. I expressed appreciation to my friend and told him that growing up I was under the self-inflicted impression that I was to be a writer. I said this and smiled, shrugging my shoulders, as if to say, Oh well. But inside, I wanted to cry out, “Do Over!” Not that I would be up for a trade or a barter. I have loved the life I’ve lived (so far), the family, the marriage, the travel, books read, people met, and so on. But if I could have more that would be good. Greed is not an emotion I’m susceptible to, except when it falls into the category of living: let me live more, larger, richer, deeper. (Note, I didn’t say, Let me live longer.)
At this place in life I am still waiting, as silly as it sounds, to Mill’s point, waiting for my work to begin. When is that going to commence, I wonder? Soon is good, later not so much. And what if it doesn’t come? Herein lies the problem: It is not a thing that is self-starting. It is not a thermostat that will kick in when some pre-set trigger is pulled. It is, to be vague about it, a thing that one must begin with effort and discipline and purpose. Waiting for Godot is still waiting, yet Beckett wrote the play. And still I wait.
What exactly is my work? What am I waiting for? Good questions. Good questions without good responses. “Let us do something, while we have the chance,” writes Beckett in Godot. Indeed, let us do something.