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Soulful Sundays: Memento Mori

“Learn how to die well and you will know how to live well.” -Unknown


Despite spring being a time of birth, there has been a lot of death around me. Three weeks ago, my next-door neighbor died in a car accident. He left behind his wife and infant son. My friend’s dad is in the hospital with a sudden fatal disease. It makes me ponder, “if I were to die right now, how would I be remembered?” I look back and hope that my life was one of integrity, with few contradictions and even less wasted time. I wonder how my kid, friends, and family would all judge my actions. Did I do a good job? Is there something more I could have done? Am I ready to die?


Death is always a possibility. If you live in a body, it can get sick and die. For most of us, if we take care of ourselves, our bodies should last us a long time. However, simply getting in a moving car cuts that time in half. The Ancient Roman’s had a way of recognizing the inevitability of death, called “memento mori.” It was usually a skull hidden somewhere in the home or in paintings and sculptures. Even the Caesar wasn’t immune to death. It reminded the Romans to not take any day for granted, and to live more virtuously. When running a race that is impossible to win, it becomes infinitely more important to run it as best as you can. This is where our personal freedom is key.


There are so many instances when I wish I had acted differently than I did. These occur almost daily. Most of them are small and unrealistic to worry over, but a select few are more important. They are the kinds of moments that teach lessons, test value systems, and shape our lives. One of the values that I strive to upkeep on a daily basis is to be grateful for all of the mundane things in my life. Life’s gifts far outweigh life’s tragedies if you are looking for them. Another principle that I value is being as useful as possible each day, looking for ways to leave the world better than the way I found it. A third principle that I try to embody is “relaxed intention” or wu wei as the Chinese call it. This means a daily commitment to small steps with limited attachment to their outcomes. All of these are easier said than done but I do my best and routinely reflect on ways to improve. The people I am most impressed by are the ones who can live by their own code, regardless of whether it is popular, and do so with integrity and compassion.


I want to close this post with a message of hope. In just a few days I will be a father for the very first time. Children are the embodiments of the circle of life and reminders for living each day in the moment. They are perfect mirrors for the actions of the adults who raise them and the very reason why we strive to be better people. I look forward to learning from my little one and know that she will be stronger and kinder than I could ever imagine. Happy Easter, everyone!

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