20 October 2011

Never too far off, volume 1

There are no good ways to start this blog post off.  There aren't many interesting ways to talk about death, but we face it every day.  Thankfully most of us deal with it through the media, and not as a daily occurrence in our own lives.  It's far away even though it's always buzzing about in our ears.  It might be far, but there it is all the same.  There's no getting around it; from dust we came, and to the dust we shall return.

And yet we shape our lives around a conscious avoidance and ignorance of death.  We hold the pictures of our lives up against a canvas that has a hidden edge, and then wail against that edge when we finally have the ill fortune to see it.

The idea of death, a conscious focusing on the reality that we will, as all people will, die one day in the future, was Marcus Aurelius' great clarifier.  There's no better way to understand the moment that we are living in than to think about whether it would be a worthwhile action if it were really our last moment alive.  Not the best action- we don't live in a world of bests or perfects, but a worthwhile action, one that confirms our and others' human dignity.

"Near is thy forgetfulness of all things; and near the forgetfulness of thee by all." (VII)

The person in front of you coming to a sudden stop, the pipes in your building not being installed properly, a little air bubble in your bloodstream, the genetic residue of generations past combining into a fatal illness, your predilection for cheeseburgers, a bolt of lightning; all of these are near to us, all of them deadly. This lack of safety is not something to be afraid of, and it's definitely not something that would cause a Stoic like Marcus Aurelius to shrink back from life into a bubble of safety and fear. 

It's something that we cannot escape, regardless of our padded table edges, prescription drugs, or Atkins diets.  Knowing that it is near, respecting its capriciousness, and focusing on whether your actions are balanced in accordance with it allow you to pay death the proper deference that it deserves.  

Keep your enemies close.

We are also near to death in time. We shall soon forget all things, and all things shall soon forget us.  All of our deeds and actions will be forgotten, whether they are noble or base. Our responsibility lies to the present, and to those around us whom we share this world with. We have available to us only the present.  The past is gone, never to be revisited, and the future is never guaranteed.  Our lives are incredibly short, some, sadly, much more so than others.

This provides us with all the more reasons to ensure that we are living our lives in a way that is worth living, to respect the moment that we are in, and the people with whom we share that moment.  What do we do when those people seem as if they deserve little respect though?

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of living in an infinity sandwich in which we are the present. How lucky we are to have this time. Short to whom? Certainly not the hummingbird, who live only about 4, 8 maybe 10 years. And they get the most of that time! Qaddafi and I never shared a moment but it's who we are willing to share it with. Spiders? Annoying family members?

    If you can get past the need for safety, past the need for recognition and glory, get all giddy with acceptance and whatever, you are still stuck with hordes of people who think their real salvation comes at death. Yet we mourn their gain and our loss.

    Let those with ears hear and I have listened. And I have heard. And the conversation is magical but available to all. And it's the conversation of all life. Interconnected not segregated like the human conversation.