A Year in the Death 1/2/21
Memento Mori: “Remember you will die.”
A blinding flash of the obvious, right? Or is it?
Let’s run an experiment.
Find a mirror. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
Look closely at yourself in that mirror, stare deeply into your own eyes, and say out loud: “Remember you will die.”
Now do it again…but this time mean it.
Look into the mirror. Take a deep breath. Stare into your eyes. And say out loud with as much conviction as possible: “Remember you will die.”
Uncomfortable, isn’t it?
And yet it’s true for every human being — every living creature — on earth.
So why is it so damn hard for us to accept that truth? And how would our daily lives be different if we not only accepted it— but actually embraced it?
To help me accept the universal truth of my own mortality, I purchased a Memento Mori coin from Ryan Holiday’s Dailystoic.com back in 2019. I’ve since had to purchase a second one, after accidentally leaving the first one in the grass at Century West Park in Rock Springs, Wyoming last July…the only bad part of an otherwise lovely summer picnic with my wife on our way to Jackson, WY.
(My sincere hope is that someone found the coin, was curious enough to research it online, and is now carrying it around as a daily reminder of his or her own mortality. In reality, someone probably found it, wondered what kind of sick and twisted fuck actually carried this Satanic-looking thing around with them, and then locked their doors that evening for the first time in years, fearing their small community was facing an invasion of devil worshipers.)
But I digress…
The concept of Memento Mori has a long, illustrious history. It’s reported that slaves were placed behind Roman emperors to continuously whisper this Latin saying in the emperor’s ear as they marched in parades. They did so to remind the emperor that, even though he was the most powerful man on earth and currently was basking in the glory of his citizens, his ending would be no different than those of the poorest Romans lining the streets: death.
Thankfully, I don’t own any slaves to remind me. Instead, I carry this coin in one of my pockets at all times or place it in its holder on my desk, where it sits now as I type. I’ve found it’s the perfect talisman to keep me grounded when:
- I am angry, frustrated, distraught, or feeling any other strong negative emotion…I simply look at the skull and think “Remember you will die.”
- I am basking in the glow of happiness, prosperity, or love…I simply look at the skull and think “Remember you will die.”
- I start to think more of myself than I should or otherwise forget how absolutely insignificant I am in the greater universe…I simply look at the skull and think “Remember you will die.”
- I get the sad news that someone I love has died (as I did just over a month ago when I lost my dear godmother)…I simply look at the skull and think “Remember you will die.”
I’m not saying you should buy your own Memento Mori coin. But I do encourage you to figure out some way of reminding yourself daily: “Remember you will die.” I promise that keeping that thought in the front of your mind, instead of buried as deeply as possible in the back of it, will change you and your perspective on a whole host of things.
What’s on the other side of the coin? It contains a powerful message as well, one I’ll discuss in tomorrow’s post.
This is part of a year-long series I’ve entitled “A Year in the Death.” As I discussed in my first entry on January 1, I am going to contemplate and write about death each day of 2021. Some days, my thoughts and writings may be detailed essays. On others, they may be little more than the contemplation of a quote about death or a piece of art representing death or dying. Also, I may not share every daily contemplation with you, reserving my thoughts to my private journal. But I am committed to the practice and invite you to follow along throughout the course of the year.