You must have heard the phrase “Memento mori.” It is thrown around quite a lot in movies, books or any sort of popular media and news you might consume.
Have you ever wondered what this pleasant-to-the-tongue phrase must mean?
It has its origins in the stoic philosophers of classical antiquity and it means “Remember you are going to die.”
I know it sounds quite harrowing. I felt the same when I first learnt what it meant. I was just a 15 year old boy, I used to think I would never die; death is for the old people. I had seen death before but I always thought I would never have to face that (nor did I want to), and when the time comes it will somehow spare me, skip over me. Albeit I thought I was immune to the effects of death (you have to excuse my part teenage naivety and part god complex here), the phrase had struck a chord within me. It stuck at the pit of my gut and with it the notion of death, which hovered over me like the sword of Damocles.
And I was obsessed, the phrase and its connotations plagued me day and night. I was constantly chanting the phrase whenever I was alone as if my life depended on it. It became my mantra. I devoured any piece of information I could find on death. I must have annoyed my mother to death with all my questions about, well, death. Later on I got convinced that I will never know when death will come but it will come someday. And like it is often the case with teenage obsessions, I grew out of it, zeroed out of my deathly preoccupation.
Life was going normal until one day I got into a bus accident. I nearly died, broke my collar bone. I do not remember much about the day, but I am cocksure I recalled “Memento mori.” The experience changed everything. I was preaching theory before and that day I brushed off with the praxis. I was inch closer to death and I found myself groping the air for life. I had so much to do and life could end- just like that.
I began to question my whole existence, what I was doing, what I was going to do, what I wanted to do, everything. The benumbing hedonistic life I was leading hitherto seemed so insipid and directionless now. I vowed to change my ways. I just wanted to grab life by the hand and squeeze everything out of it until it turned to a dry, lifeless husk.
All this while, memento mori rang in my ear like someone had released an ostentatiously loud alarm clock inside my mind which went off every 15 minutes. It was as if my whole life was repeating but this time something had changed and my resolve was strong. I narrowed down my list of what I really wanted to do and be in my life and started pursuing it. I came bouncing back to my old hobbies, reading books and writing stuff and this time I made up my mind to invest myself wholeheartedly. Now I am writing this to you and as Robert Frost liked to say, “Miles to go before I sleep.”
Knowing death is good and all but chanting the prayer of death, do not forget life. Let the words succor but go live.