I attended a funeral of a close relation over the weekend. As the funeral proceeded my mind wandered to the meaning of life and death. Later in the evening I began to search for some answers. My curiosity led me to the ancient Greek philosophers. The ancient philosophers practiced something called “Memento Mori,” or translated in English, “Remember you must die.” The point of this reminder isn’t to be morbid or promote fear, but to inspire, motivate and clarify. The idea has been central to art, philosophy, literature, architecture, and more throughout history. As Socrates says in Plato’s Phaedo, “The one aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death.”
Seneca urged in his Moral Letters to Lucilius, “Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day…The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself: “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” The emperor considered it imperative to keep death at the forefront of his thoughts. In doing so, the world’s most powerful man managed the obligations of his position guided by living virtuously NOW.
Epictetus would ask his students, “Do you then ponder how the supreme of human evils, the surest mark of the base and cowardly, is not death, but the fear of death?” And begged them to “discipline yourself against such fear, direct all your thinking, exercises, and reading this way — and you will know the only path to human freedom.”
The ancient philosophers also believed that we don’t really die. We simply transition from one state to another. The scientists also tell us that matter/energy is neither created nor destroyed. It simply changes form. As spiritual beings we can never really die. Since death is a natural end for all living things, there is no need to be afraid of it. Rather we need to make the most of every second of life and live a meaningful life.
I then recalled what the preacher had said earlier. “Those who believe never die. Even though the body appears dead, the spirit lives on forever. Therefore do not be afraid of death. Instead celebrate the life of the deceased. Hold onto the good memories. Be inspired to live a good and meaningful life. Carry her legacy forward. Have Faith. Forgive. Make many friends. Avoid life’s many temptations. Learn to live a simple life.”
After meditating on the meaning of death, my mind became at ease. I finally accepted the tragic incident and challenged myself to live a good, meaningful and purposeful life.