I just read a wonderful article by Dr. BJ Miller, hospice and palliative medicine physician. As 2020 had been a very challenging year, with much of the stress related to the pandemic, it also is a year that has some really valuable lessons for us to learn from. It has demonstrated to us that nothing in life is guaranteed, with the exception of death, which the pandemic has forced us to confront, whether we were ready to or not.
There is a concept in stoicism called “Memento Mori“, which in Latin means “Remember that you must die“, and this article brought me back to this concept. It is commonly used as a beacon of humility via remembering that we are mere mortals. Although many feel uncomfortable thinking about and discussing death, especially our own or that of our closest loved ones, this exercise can, somewhat ironically, genuinely lead to better living. This year, especially given the pandemic, has served as an opportunity to reevaluate our lives, reflect on our mortality, and as Andy Dufresne said in Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”
I encourage all of you to read that article by Dr. Miller, and to spend some time reflecting on 2020 and the lessons that are available, should you just push aside the endless “doom and gloom” that overshadowed all else. My feeling is that many of us were caught in a state of entitlement, ungratefulness, and complacency, and 2020 has served to slap us out of these mindsets and into a state of awareness and appreciation. I think many, including myself, were overdue for such a harsh reality check, and my plan is to never forget what I have learned in 2020.
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”
My wife and I were talking last night, and I brought up that I would like us to consider using this years’ lessons to keep us grounded in the future. Simply put, I would like “2020” and “pandemic” to be reminders of how nothing is guaranteed, how we need to be grateful for what we have, and how nothing is more important than living our lives consistent with our values. “2020” and “pandemic” will also be available as trump cards to throw, should one of us find the other using superficial excuses, allowing fear to hold us back, not following our passions, becoming too comfortable, or just needing a break from the routine.
“Meditating on your mortality is only depressing if you miss the point. It is in fact a tool to create priority and meaning. It’s a tool that generations have used to create real perspective and urgency. To treat our time as a gift and not waste it on the trivial and vain. Death doesn’t make life pointless but rather purposeful. And fortunately, we don’t have to nearly die to tap into this. A simple reminder can bring us closer to living the life we want.”
Memento Mori: A simple reminder that can bring us closer to living the life we want. Assuming that this pandemic comes to a close at some point, we want to remember that time has a way of altering our perception of powerful events, and try to keep our lessons learned from 2020 fresh, so that they continue to motivate us to be humble, grateful and live our lives with a sense of urgency. This year, we’ve had to confront death on a scale that many of us have never experienced, but I encourage you to continue to spend some time thinking about it, reflecting and meditating on your mortality, along with the mortality of others, so that you can approach the rest of your life as if tomorrow is not guaranteed.
“To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”
–Michel de Montaigne
DISCLAIMERS: 1) The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer. 2) There are no conflicts of interest to report. 3) I don’t know what I don’t know, so feel free to message me if you don’t agree with something that you read.
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