The Latin phrase Momento Mori is translated as “remember death.” Why would anyone want to remember death? Well for one thing, it is inevitable. And for another, it is Universal.
Death is not unique to humans or animals. Death is literally the end game for every living thing (thank you Eckhart Tolle,) every experience, every plan, every piece of property, every season, every role we will ever play, every relationship, and every breath we take.
What’s up with the death talk? One of the collateral gifts of choosing to accept the deaths of two of my children, is that death is actually a big part of my life. While this may seem morose, or dark it is unexpectedly quite the opposite. When I live from a place of knowing the end game, my choices show up differently than they would if I believed myself to be immortal.
I don’t want to “die” but knowing that I will, and could at any time, changes things. It calls me to make sure people in my life know that I love them. It inspires me not to “die with my music still inside” as Dr. Wayne Dyerwould say. It humbles my ego. It gives me perspective. It brings more “human” to my humanity.
This is not my metaphor, but it is a good one: (I would love to credit the source and will when I remember where I heard it!) Consider a beautiful coffee up. Maybe it was a gift from an old friend. Or perhaps you purchased said mug, while in a part of the world that means something to you. It may remind you of a trip, or a season that brought you Joy. Maybe there is a picture of your pet on it.
Fast forward, you have an insight that this coffee cup is dropped by a guest when they are visiting your home. It may be years from now, or it may be this weekend. The cup you consider your “favorite” and the one that helps you start each day, and has for so long, smashes into pieces when it slips from the hand of someone drinking from it. Gone. Dead. Forever.
Now, coming back to the present, you know this beloved drinking cup has a shelf life. You know its days are numbered. With this certainty (even though the timing is unknown) you may be drawn to experience the cup differently. When you drink from it, you are present. When you wash it you exercise gentle care. When you dry it, you take your time, maybe with a soft cloth, and perhaps remember how you felt when you purchased it or received it as a gift.
And of course, maybe not.
But for me, remembering death allows me to live more freely. I am keenly aware not just of my own mortality, but that of everyone and everything around me. And no, it’s not morbid for me. I don’t wear black and stay in the house with the lights off and the shades drawn (ok, maybe I do that every once in a while…)
Kidding aside, and on the contrary, knowing that I have limited time here, with you, with loved ones, with the plants, animals and nature that surrounds me, inspires me to engage. In the words of Aerosmith: “I don’t want to miss a thing.” When I am gone, I don’t want anyone to wonder who I was, who and what mattered to me, and what I was here to share. I want it all out there, before I die. So I remember death.
There are actually coins, and tokens available for purchase to be kept in one’s pocket or purse that say “Momento Mori.” The intention is that having it ready at hand, we are continually reminded that all things are transient.
Maybe that seems extreme. Perhaps that is not something that resonates. But is it not also extreme, to plow through the world as if we WILL live forever? Is it not futile, to cling to material things, relationships that have run their course, seasons that have passed and behaviors that no longer serve us? I say yes, these things are also extreme.
I don’t carry a Momento Mori coin with me. I have the smiling spirits of my deceased children, and other lost friends and loved ones, hovering over me every day. They remind me that my time is limited. My sadness and grief are even sometimes the vehicles of the reminders.
When I have the blues, I don’t always remember the message, but eventually when the light creeps in, I think “Oh that’s right, I am wasting time on something that is meaningless. If I died today, what would I wish I’d have done instead of that?”
Give this a shot next time you are feeling disconnected. If you are like me, it might just be that you have lost sight of the things and people that allow your life to have purpose, meaning and contribution. Then go do the thing you wish you’d done today if you knew it was your last one.