Last Call

Advesperacit et inclinata est iam dies

It is toward evening and the day is far spent - Luke 24:2

In high school, my poetry teacher was an aspiring stand-up comedian and he would often try out parts of his routine on us in lieu of teaching us about Browning, Housman or the other greats. Though I resented this at the time, it has proved useful over the years to appropriate, borrow,––okay––steal the jokes he gave us without fear of being caught or needing to add a footnote to the remark.

At the time this newly-minted teacher––for he must have been only 22 or 23, though to a 17 year old this seems ancient––as I said, this senescent teacher was dating the daughter of an even more senior faculty member of the school. He often regaled us with the awkward moments when he came courting at the house of this elder faculty member. And while I especially enjoyed the story about how he had to learn "Sorry, I knocked over your Christmas tree." in ASL, for the prospective mother-in-law was deaf, my thoughts turn tonight to THE BOX. The Box was this fantastic machine that would sit in the center of a dinner table and register the lulls in table talk and at the crucial moment print off a new conversational topic. Over time his idea for The Box grew so that not only would it measure periods of silence but would also interject with new topics when someone, for example, a certain future in-law, began to bore the rest of the company with the same old story. Soon, this poetry teacher conceived of The Box as able to speak as well as print out table-talk suggestions, and better yet, it could detect the moment before you stuck your foot in your mouth.

In idle hours, often over a beer or two with an old high school friend, I have often tallied up the list of conversation topics that I would program into The Box. Today, as I was reading about St. Frances de Sales, I came across a list of his last phrases before death, and quickly realized that I had come upon one of those topics that I must propose at the next Catholic Beer Club gathering since The Box still remains after all these years in prototype:

What would you have as your final words?

When I think of final words, I often turn to the Roman emperor Claudius whom Seneca the Younger pictures in his satirical Apolocyntosis (Squash-ification as opposed to "deification") as saying:

vae me, puto, concacavi me.

As they used to do in old editions of such naughty Roman works, I will leave the sentence in question untranslated. But adult diapers definitely could have been invented sooner.

Then there is poor Archimedes who was busy drawing geometric figures in the sand while the Romans sacked the city of Syracuse around him. Angry with the legionnaire who had trampled on his equations, he let fly:

Don't disturb my circles!

And the pillaging soldier, put out by this Diogenes-like remark, answered the mathematician's rebuke with the sword. [Don't worry, the Roman general did not approve this initiative and put the murderous soldier to death in turn for his savage deed. I cannot vouch for what they would have done in defense of Socrates or Plato, but the Romans definitely appreciated a Greek who could turn abstract mathematics and physics into siege weapons and lasers.]

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Before I go through the rest of my top ten absurd last words, I should probably turn my attention back to the quote that first put the whole idea of last words into my head:

Advesperacit et inclinata est iam dies

It is toward evening and the day is far spent.

[Luke 24:29]

This was the penultimate phrase of today's saint, Francis de Sales. And while there is something interesting about the fact that after sixteen centuries a Catholic saint is dying in the same language as a Roman emperor, I was even more struck by how charming a turn of phrase the disciples at Emmaus turned. It entirely reminded me of the closing lines to Vergil's First Eclogue, when one herdsman invites a fellow herdsman on the road to stop for the night:

et iam summa procul villarum culmina fumant

maioresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae.

And now the chimney tops are smoking from afar 

And shadows fall much larger from the rising hills.

I could go on about the Eucharist and eschatological allusions in St. Francis' quote, but all of that seems rather petty compared to the invitation to Beauty contained in it. But this quotation from Luke was St. Francis' second to last statement on Earth, his last on Earth was likely his first in Heaven: "Iesus".

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Beer and Book: "Yuengling" & St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life

Though I am from New Jersey, my heart like my hometown is closer to Pennsylvania than New York. And while Boulevard may rule the wheat fields of Kansas, Yuengling holds its own in the middle Appalachians and can still boast that it is America's oldest beer. Both Yuengling and Introduction have been around for a while. They may not be the flashiest offering, but they are strong work-horses that stand up to repeated use over the years.

Exhibit A: 1829.

Exhibit A: 1829.