close up photography of concrete tombstones

Memento Mori

Knowing that I will die is a powerful motivator to live the best life that I can, to not be complacent.

Memento mori (Latin for ‘remember that you [have to] die’) is an artistic or symbolic trope acting as a reminder of the inevitability of death.

Memento Mori on Wikipedia

Knowing that everything changes, change is the only constant as they say, makes each day interesting. Each day holds the possibility of wonder and great surprises. 

Each day is also unknowable. While I try to make everything predictable and controllable, life is anything but. Each time I try to plan too much, life gives me a not so gentle reminder that I’m not in control. I can influence and do my best, but I’m not in control.

Remembering that I will 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 what is only truly important.

Steve Jobs

That brings me to focusing on the present moment. I need to be at ease with what is out of my control and trust that each chapter in my life story will unfold as it should.

The transiency of life

This is a reflection that I wrote back in August 2009 while in Japan.

As I walked my way to the fireworks show at Osaka, Japan yesterday, I was impressed by the amount of people congregating to see the show.  I was with my friends over an hour before the fireworks were scheduled to start, and even then it was very crowded.  I though about just going to my room and resting instead of dealing with massive amounts of people, but instead I ignored how tired I was and spent the night with my friends.

The fireworks started, and they were beautiful.  I have seen fireworks many times before, but for some reason this time it just felt very special.  I was struck by the beauty of each one of them, and how they would soon dissipate, just to be replaced by a different one, and yet another one.  Seeing how the fireworks would change so much one after the other, yet no matter what they would soon dissipate, made me think about life and how beautiful and transient it is.

Each day comes with new opportunities, opportunities for learning, enjoyment, and growth, etc.  It is up to us to appreciate the beauty of each day and make the most out of it.  Just like I chose to stay to see the fireworks despite having to deal with massive amounts of people when leaving the show, it is up to us to decide on a daily basis if we are going to enjoy our day and make the most out of it, or choose the ‘safe’ alternative of doing the same thing as the day before all over again.

It is hard to accept this, but what happens to us is a direct effect of what we do.  Focus on improving your life, take on new risks and challenges for self-development, and soon you will see yourself leading a more rewarding life.  Just like the fireworks, our life is transient, and so are the opportunities presented.  Only when we decide to stop ‘resting’ and instead open our eyes  will we be able to get out of the vicious cycle of repetition and truly appreciate the beauty that has been there all along.

Just like the fireworks show, our life will end.  Maybe we have another 80 years to live, but we could just as well be gone from this Earth within the next hour.  That is the reason we have to open our eyes and start living our lives NOW.  Every hour we waste pondering on the issues of the past, or the things that we can achieve in the future, is an hour we stop living and enjoying the PRESENT.  And in the end, what do we have other than the present?

If you are thinking about the past, don’t let it stop you from living the present.
If you don’t enjoy your present thinking about a better tomorrow, what makes you think the future will be so much better than the present?

Tomorrow the sun will rise, just as it did today, and despite all you achieve or fail to achieve, the day will go by and at the end night will come.  When night comes, take out your pen and a piece of paper and write down the things about that day you enjoyed and the things you are grateful about.  Think about what you want to achieve the next day, and what you will do to enjoy the day.  Repeat this exercise every day, or at least once a week.  When you find yourself not knowing what you enjoyed from your day, you might need to reassess the path you are taking and your outlook in life.

The death rate for human beings hovers right around 100 percent, and is expected to remain there for … well, forever. Consider this: if the average life span is 77 years, then that means we only have 77 summers … 77 winters … 77 Christmas mornings … 77 New Years, and that’s it. The Marriage Masters know this all too well. It’s easy to get caught in the day-to-day craziness of life and, in the process, take our spouses for granted. A widow named Betty, married 54 years, says, “Now that he’s gone I wish I hadn’t had so many headaches.”

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Last Updated on January 22, 2023 by Omar Eduardo

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