I discovered Stoicism about 4 years ago. It wasn’t much more to me than a few quotes that I thought would show that I was a “deep thinker”. I wasn’t. That changed in 2020/2021 with the phrase “Memento Mori” or “Remember you must die”. Throughout my life, I’ve been healthy so death never registered. I know that everyone dies, eventually but that wasn’t going to happen to me until I was old and frail. Seeing how the pandemic has ravaged the world and how it’s affected seemingly healthy people and people around my age really made death and dying very real to me. In my part of the US, and the part of the US I grew up in, death isn’t talked about until someone in your family or a family member of a close friend actually dies. It’s considered “morbid” so it isn’t discussed outside of a funeral home.
By contrast, in the United States, the end of life has become so medicalized that death is often viewed as a failure, rather than as an expected stage of life. https://undark.org/2017/10/19/death-dying-america-anthropologist/
What “Memento Mori” has done for me is to bring the message, “Remember you must die” to the front of my consciousness. I’m not eager to die or really looking forward to the process of dying but knowing it’s out there and could come at any time has really helped refocus my life and what I want to do with it. My dad used to take me to the grave stone he’d already purchased at the graveyard where he was to be buried. It made me feel very uncomfortable but he wanted me to know his wishes. He also showed me where all the paperwork was for the casket and funeral which he’d paid for in advance. He also meticulously kept every bank and credit card statement in a binder and would show it to me regularly. I really can’t thank him enough for that now. When he died it was such a smooth process having everything already taken care of. He was an avid reader but I don’t know if he read much about Stoicism but he sure practiced the philosophy. I want to, not only, be that comfortable to plan my own funeral but to use the power of that comfort to live my life going forward knowing that it could end at any time.
Procrastination is a terrible habit I have. When I feel like putting things off I think about “Remember you must die” and will usually get up and do whatever it is I wanted to put off. The payoff is that 99% of the time it takes less time and effort than I thought it would to just do it then. To say it’s been life-changing wouldn’t be hyperbole. It really has changed the way I think and the actions I take on a day-to-day, sometimes hour to hour, basis.
I’ve come up with my own phrase that I use quite a bit in addition to “Memento Mori” and that is “si vis vitam experiri, para ad mortem” which translates to “If you want to experience life, prepare for death”. It doesn’t roll off the tongue as easy as “Memento Mori” but it resonates with me just the same.
I don’t look at Stoicism as I used to. It has a much deeper meaning to me that I’m really looking forward to exploring. I’m going to be documenting that journey here on this blog but I want to say that this is new to me. I’m going to make mistakes and as Epictetus said:
If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid. https://aliabdaal.com/be-content-to-be-thought-foolish/
I hope my journey will help someone who may be struggling to find their way as I was. As I am.