Wake Up and Die Right

At an exercise class today, we talked a bit about the murder mystery I’m going to write about the class (assuming I get myself in gear), and then we did warm up exercises while the teacher sorted through her music to find the recording she wanted to play. When she couldn’t find the right DVD, she muttered, “Wake up and die right,” which stopped me in my tracks.

“What did you say?” I asked, not sure I heard correctly. She repeated the phrase, and I laughed. I’d never heard the saying before, and coming as it did right after a discussion about our fictional murder, it seemed even more amusing. And a bit gruesome.

Wake up and die right. Oh, my.

Odd words, phrases, and sayings often stay with me, rattling around in my brain until I can make sense of them. (In fact, just yesterday I railed against the appalling sentiment, “He deserved to die.”) The more I thought about “wake up and die right,” the more it made sense. We die right if at the end, we have no regrets. We die right if we’ve lived life to the fullest and used ourselves up, if we’ve danced and laughed, if we’ve enjoyed the company of those who enrich us, if we feel the sunsets and smell the rain-washed air. (If you live in the desert, of course, that rain-washed air comes so infrequently you better smell it when you can because it might be many months before you get another chance.)

Wake up and die right. Oh, yes.

Apparently, the saying came from World War II. Soldiers who let their attention wander were told to “Wake up and die right” — to pay attention, to fight, to get a grip, to die like a soldier if necessary. The adage migrated to the general population and seems to have been prevalent during the late forties and early fifties, but its use faded as memory of the war years became supplanted by other invasions with other jargons — the Beatles, the Viet Nam “police action,” the drug wars.

Today, more than sixty years after the maxim had been laid to rest, it came to life once again. I suppose in a way, it’s reminding to me to just sit down and write the book about the class because, of course, I would regret not having written the story. I just need to wake up and do it so my designated victim can die right.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.