Posted on January 3, 2019
This is a strange holiday:
"Memento mori" is Latin for "Remember your mortality." This basically translates to "Remember, someday you will die." And that sounds pretty depressing...
I think that it could be a reminder that life is precious.
It could be a reminder to enjoy the now, enjoy what you have, enjoy who you have in your life. None of this is going to last forever, so take the time to appreciate life, the universe, and everything.
There's something really beautiful about that, isn't there?
Of course, we have to learn from the past. But we shouldn't dwell in the past.
No, the "good old days" probably weren't better than now, and even if they were, wishing to go back to them doesn't actually accomplish anything!
No, you cannot go back and fix the mistakes you made. All we can do is learn from the past and then square our shoulders and go on.
Also, of course we have to prepare a bit for the future. We should brush our teeth, because we want to keep them a long, long time. We should eat healthy food and exercise - this helps us now as well as helps our future selves. We are better off if we set goals and then work toward accomplishing them. But spending too much time thinking about the future - either with dread or with day-dreamy hopes for fame or riches - is counter-productive to actually enjoying the present OR the future.
So "memento mori" could be a lot like "carpe diem" - Seize the day! Enjoy life NOW. Take advantage of opportunities, and live life to the fullest.
"Memento mori" is also a reminder not to get too obsessed about things like money, possessions, or rankings like "Number 1 in the school" or "World Champion."
What they say is true: when you die, "you can't take it with you." Of course it's necessary to have money to buy food and to pay for housing and transportation - no doubt about it! - but storing up more and more and more and more money doesn't necessarily make sense.
As for stuff! Being pleased with a new game or outfit is natural - but being consumed by the need to buy EVERY game or countless clothes is too much - especially since eventually all the games and clothes and even you and me will be dust. We tend to clutter our lives with possessions, but we have to have perspective about our stuff - it is definitely not more important than love or people or experiences!
And whatever ranking you achieve, someone else will eventually pass you or replace you. It's not that you shouldn't have high goals, it's that you shouldn't allow those ambitions to rule and ruin your life - because nothing is permanent.
As the poem Ozymandias points out, even the all-powerful ruler of an empire is going to die, and eventually all of his monuments and even memory of his name and accomplishments will be no more.
I met a traveller from an antique landWho said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stoneStand in the desert... near them, on the sand,Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,Tell that its sculptor well those passions readWhich yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"Nothing beside remains. Round the decayOf that colossal wreck, boundless and bareThe lone and level sands stretch far away.
"Memento mori" helps us realize that we can "carpe diem" with less fear of failure, and less fear of being laughed at. Steve Jobs once said:
"Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life…because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
"Memento mori" also warns us that, while we are busy enjoying the present and "carpe-ing the diem," a certain amount of care and caution should be taken.
Not only is life short (comparatively short, that is), bodies and brains are fragile (again, comparatively).
All in all, I see "memento mori" as a very positive saying.