Life is Finite; Death is Final. In the Meantime . . .
Very recently, one of our team lost a close family member. Too young, too sudden, and much too heartbreaking. We’re all grieving for her and her family.
It makes me think on my own mortality. How brief our life is, how unpromised our tomorrows.
As if in answer to my thoughts, I saw, on a Marcus Aurelius site (I’ve written about my admiration for the Emperor-philosopher), an excerpt from St. Robert Southwell’s Upon the Image of Death, published in 1595, the year of his martyrdom. It was the poem’s second-to-last stanza, and reads:
Of Alexander’s dreadful name,
And all the West did likewise fear
To hear of Julius Cæsar’s fame,
Yet both by death in dust now lie;
Who then can ‘scape but he must die?
Marcus Aurelius himself noted that Alexander the Great and his charioteer both were buried in the same dust. It’s the end all of us must come to – and who can know whether mortality is humanity’s worst curse, or our greatest blessing? We who believe in a life to come hope we may find out.
Others hope for a fame longer lasting than our lives, that our great deeds and accomplishments may establish for us a vicarious immortality we will probably never know about after we leave this world. And, if we do, having gone beyond this life of earth, will we even care?
The final stanza of St. Robert’s poem reads:
If rich and poor his beck obey,
If strong, if wise, if all do smart,
Then I to ‘scape shall have no way.
Oh, grant me grace, O God, that I
My life may mend, sith I must die.
What we have is today. What we have are our duties, our responsibilities and obligations. And, if we are lucky, we also have the comforts that life can bless us with whilst we live it – loved ones, family and friends, all the relationships that bring so much more meaning to our lives than we can possibly have without them.
So, for our loved ones, for our communities, for our world, and most of all, for ourselves, let’s not get mired. Not in fear of death, nor in striving in hope of a legacy at best uncertain.
Let us, rather, fulfill our duties, love and cherish our family and friends, and act on what small good we find ourselves in a position to do for others – and not just those we love – every day.
Let us treat ourselves both tenderly, as finite, mortal, fault-filled beings like all our fellow humans, and rigorously, in that we demand of ourselves that we do our best, and that we strive to make that best better.
For, in the end, we will all rest, together, in the common clay of our spinning planet.
And, if we have done our best, we may hope that rest a peaceful one.
What does a death bring to your mind? What are you inspired to do, to change, in your own life?
Please click here to email me directly – I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Until next time,