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The Last Word

December 8, 2019 (380 words)

When it comes to human affairs, it’s hard for any of us to claim the last word. No matter how highly developed our sense of discernment may be, there is always some perspective that escapes our notice, some angle we are just not privy to.

These motivational loose ends can turn our well-thought-out analysis on its head, and undermine the certainty we strive for in our condemnations. The nemesis we imagined is often just another flawed human being who is experiencing a weak moment, or struggling to contend with multiple (and often conflicting) factors.

This can be true not only of total strangers and public figures who come under our scrutiny, but also of those in our immediate circle of influence, such as friends or co-workers. It can apply to family members we think we know so well, and are therefore prone to judge even more harshly.

Some things in life can be known definitely. In confronting our fellow man certitude exceeds our grasp, and we are left making a concerted effort to comprehend the inscrutable.

There is a famous French aphorism I can only pronounce in English: To understand all is to forgive all. Truer words were never spoken.

Or, depending on one’s ideological disposition, one might say there is no end of worthy prayer intentions.

Before we bid farewell to this world and die, our senses usually fade, and we become inconsequential to those around us. We become little more than an afterthought – an object of the odd, perfunctory visit by unenthusiastic relations.

This is not as bad as it sounds, since by then the feeling is mutual, and our world has become just as inconsequential to those now approaching life’s final runway.

In a best-case scenario, we eventually age out and awkwardly teeter off the stage. Only to be replaced by countless younger ones who confidently take up the mantle and assume the position. They instinctively continue the long-running drama of assiduously discerning one’s surroundings, in a moment-by-moment assessment of praise or blame.

It amounts to a non-stop attempt to claim the last word, without ever realizing how futile the effort ultimately is. It’s the same old Sturm und Drang, the very thing that older ones, if they are lucky, have thankfully lost all appetite for.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
December 8, 2019

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