By Justin Cude
Death; oh, how it has flooded my mind lately. More appropriately, the thought alone has consumed my attention, stood defiantly in place against my hesitant rebuttal, and toiled with my attempted understanding of its ominous position. However, with this, and with recent encounter of its inevitability and its swiftness, death’s ever lingering presence has also brought about a sense of compartmentalization, towards how I divide the allotment of my time, who I decide to allow my being, and what I deem as worthy within and of my life.
Death has a funny, and yet a not so comical way of bringing back to the moment reality. We all will die, yes, there is no changing this. Despite our various efforts towards a guaranteed life of longevity, no matter how cautious or how tame we live out our days, they are numbered, and they remain, with unyielding persistence, in tally; destination and departure unknown. With this… memento mori.
Derived from Latin origin, memento mori, when translated to our modern form of the English language, reminds us bluntly, ‘Remember you must die’. In reference to the piece pictured above, from a perspective more poetically crafted, ‘Vanité’, master pieced by 17th Century French painter Philippe de Champaigne, displays through detailed expression the thin line of existence in which we abide. The tulip (life), the skull (death), and the hourglass (time); life, our current experience, remaining in constant shadow of death, which we may encounter at any moment. The only guarantee between the triad conveyed at median; death.
There is no guarantee of a life, even less, if possible, no assurance of time. We aren’t promised a single breath, no law of nature ensuring us an abundance, or even a presence, of either element. So why are we so wasteful of it? Why do we engage with such petty occurrences and tasks? Why do we allow our lives to be consumed with such oblivion, with negligence towards its fragility? There remains a thin line between our existence and our demise, yet, we act as if the former is forever. Again… memento mori.
As mentioned, I recently encountered death, not my life, but a loved one, and as I write this, with mind lost in consumption of its very nature, I find it, with slight grief, irresponsible and selfish of myself to only be aware of it now, in light only because of our latest confront. A loved one, so dear and close to my heart, to my being, to my life, almost taken away, by a true evil of this world, one which affects us all, directly and indirectly; addiction. Stolen it felt, robbed, if even only for a moment, with monstrous lack of care or of concern for all involved, for death does not carry with it a sense of compassion or refrain, only a duty, a duty to take, always too soon it feels, for death doesn’t, it only does.
How arrogant it feels though, how wrong and self-loathed it seems to allow the tribulation of another the right to provide you with any sense of pain, or for that matter, of thanks; he experienced this inevitably, you merely observed, for now. You have no mind even to what it truly entails, to what he truly experienced. Is there pain? Perhaps a release? How intense the struggle? Do we succumb with ease? Or, maybe, just nothing.
Enough, these thoughts, they’re needed, these feelings too, and it’s okay, life tends to provide the test first and the lesson later, death staying true to this form. Meditate on this however, understand what this is, this feeling, this experience, this will happen again, to you even, to another so dear, sooner or later, but no matter, for it will happen again, no matter.
But oh how it hurts when you are so near it, how odd and unsure the moment it provides, how abrupt it impedes everything, stops us on our path and challenges us to accept, for with death there is no other way, no alternative route, so accept. Death ceases life, but life itself does not cease, and that is the hardest truth to accept. Beyond you is more, beyond our loved ones, beyond this moment, the same, but no matter, nor you or I will be a part of that, we are only a part of this, right now, so the future, no matter, only now.
So than, what to take from this? Death is always there, here rather, around you and I, always, right now. You are already dead, your life already destined to end, finale inscripted, you just don’t know it yet, you don’t truly know it, and by the time you’re allowed to, you’re gone, too late.
So than, what to take from this? Live, live now, before it is too late, do not fear death, rather accept it, embrace its forthcoming with repose, for… ”nobody dies before his time comes, so I am calm. I know I am going to die, I just don’t know when.”
Thankfully, with deep gratefulness of fate and of circumstance, he is still here with us, still able to converse, still given time to express ideas and to share perspectives, to create and to learn, still capable of life and of love and of all that comes with it. We all are, remember this, you the same if you are reading this now.
However, this experience, as gratuitous its perceived purpose at the time, excavated from within me, from depths of inactive essence, from thoughts of idle action, an awakening and a forging of a practice, one towards understanding and of gratuity, towards acceptance and of regard, for this life, for death to come, and for the sustain of this moment… “thankful, for it is not ours to own, only to borrow. Death will come, know this, use this.”
You may be sitting there, reading this, believing it to be a rather pessimistic piece, but I would argue against this innate impulse of thought. Allow this idea, or truth rather, to bring about a vigor for this life, for this moment. Again we all will die, yes, but now, right now, truly be grateful to be alive, I beg you.
Wherever you are, right now, reading this, look up from your screen, now around you, and find the beauty of this moment, better yet, bring beauty to this moment. Take a deep breath, come back to your being, feel the world and its nature around you, understand the best you can with acquiescence the common fate of us all, and be grateful and amazed to be a part of it. You will die, yes, no matter, but for now you must live.
From this moment on, in our constant face with death, to reference the always pertinent Stoic philosophy, to quote Marcus Aurelius, “…think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy,to love.”
And with this, memento mori.