Unlike a Roman general reveling in his moment of triumph, I do not need to be reminded of my own mortality. In fact, I cannot seem to forget my mortality even when I would prefer to do so.
My thought process begins at what seems to be a very odd place; a conversation about Elvis Presley on my way back from hanging out at the bar and having a couple of my usual dark beers. While I was having those beers, I gave some thought to the sacrifice made by those who were willing to lay down their lives for their country, as I’m sure many others did. But it was not until later, as I was cursing at my car’s CD player for its bad habit of not working unless the weather is bad, that I began to realize the nature of the wonderfully human quandary in which we find ourselves.
Elvis died like so many very talented and interesting people have ended their lives over the aeons, drowning in the depths of despair and indulging in a pitiful attempt to mitigate the pain of living. Who knows how many nights he contemplated his own death, how devastating it would be to those who loved him and yet at the same time such a blissful release from whatever it was that kept him from true happiness. I can sympathize.
For many years I looked forward to the day of my death, anticipating the beautiful oblivion that sounded so comforting in comparison to the constant injustice and pain of this world. But unlike so many of my kind, I did not seek solace in drugs or sex or the admiration of others. I reveled in the pain that I endured, let it forge a soul so cold and inured to hurt that I believed it would protect me from the harsh winds of the reality of life until the moment when that life was taken from me by the gentle hands of the Moirae.
It was not until late into my college career that I made the best mistake of my life and allowed myself to care so deeply for someone else that my soul soared to heights that I had never imagined and sunk into depths that made my worst nightmares pleasant by comparison. I explored the limits of my existence and found that it was entirely up to me to decide whether I was happy or unhappy with that existence. I chose to be happy and I have no desire to rescind that decision.
There are times when I sit contented with the life immensely blessed that I lead and relish the intense beauty of existence, and sometimes in those moments I will remember my own end, the conclusion to the story still unwritten. The thought of that conclusion makes me smile now just as it did in all those years past, but for a different reason. Death is no longer a wish to be fulfilled. I no longer want to go straight to the end of the story. Like a good reader, I’ll enjoy the reading all the chapters before the thrilling conclusion.
In the past I’ve taken to heart the famous phrase spoken to those Roman generals to remind them of their mortality. Now I seek to abide by other Latin phrases that in my experience convey an equally important message. After all, what use is dying if you’ve never given yourself the chance to truly live? If you’ve never explored the vast power of the love that drives life onward? And so this is what I now ask of myself.
Memento vita. Memento amo. Memento mori.