“Those who practice philosophy in the right way are in training for dying…”
     — Socrates

Memento mori, “remember death,” was the salutation exchanged by the hermits of St. Paul in the 1600’s. Although the phrase itself was in use over the centuries in Christianity, the importance of pondering death is a nearly universal given for all the spiritual traditions. For myself, I found that trying to live a day as if it were one’s only day of life has been a useful practice.

In thinking about all of this it occurred to me that I was overlooking something important, and that my concern should not only be about death as a possible immanent reality but also about how the full arc of my life corresponds to the fact of my death; or to put it another way, whether the way I have lived my life was in harmony with the certainty of death. No answers came to mind, and I put the question aside. Then one day while I was online I saw something from an insurance company that provided a link to calculate one’s lifespan. I filled in the answers to a few questions and my projected lifespan appeared. In looking a little farther, I saw that some other life insurance companies offered the same option. Curious as to how much the answers might diverge, I filled out the questions from these others, as well. A couple of the sites asked many more questions, going into considerable detail in regards to my health and lifestyle practices. To my surprise the answers were all within a pretty tight range, and gave me an average life expectancy of 89 years. I put my iPad down and thought, “89, that means I have 18 more years; that’s a long time.” Even though the number was simply an actuarial average, and my lifespan would almost certainly be different, I nevertheless felt pretty good about the idea that I had many more years yet to live. Then I decided to see how far along I was on my lifespan, and found that, according the the projections of the insurance companies, my life is now 4/5 over. Only 1/5 remains. Suddenly, that put everything in an entirely different light. Same input numbers, but the idea that only a fraction of my life was left to me seemed to change everything about how I felt.

So, with the hard truth that 4/5th of my life was already past, and only a small 1/5th remained, I couldn’t evade the question, how do I want to live the little bit left? What am I doing that I shouldn’t be bothered with, and what am I not doing that I should? It was such an obvious exercise, but it put me directly in front of the necessity of living my life more consciously. 

That said, this method to come to better face the fact of one’s mortality is not some great discovery. You might have found better means, and I am almost certain that many of you have. What matters is that we live our lives in such a way that it includes carrying within ourselves the consciousness of our deaths, and, acting from that awareness, we thus might be able to say to ourselves at the end, “well done.”

Comments are welcome.

PS: If you wish to try to calculate your projected lifespan and then determine the fractions of your life that have passed and that still remain, simply go to Google and type in the words “life expectancy calculator.” You will find several to chose from.

 
 

6 Comments

  1. Thank you, Dennis. So often I think of what I wish I would have done, but not the limited years ahead to accomplish that which is meaningful to me. I think many of us should ready Mememto Mori frequently and write down what we love about each day (also to give love each day)and make notes to accomplish dreams so we can truly say, “Well done.”

  2. Yes, so often we are looking in the rear view mirror, wishing that we had taken a different turn, when what is needed is to pay attention to the rest of the journey.
    And it is a stellar idea to have a notebook for the purpose you suggest, thanks so very much.

  3. It must be in the air as I have ben confronting my own demise as a near reality. The aging process has decreased my ability to do all the upkeep on my home so I have begun looking at “retirement communities”. Death is part of the natural world; it makes sense to enjoy our end years by fulfilling those final dreams and goals and not run away or deny!

  4. Thank you so much, Mitzi. It seems that life is bound up into expansion and, later on, a contraction that we are now going through. I do wonder, though, if the letting go of things and even the body receding doesn’t cause a complimentary growth inside, a growth of spirit. We seem to now think larger thoughts as a matter of course, don’t you think? And the feelings are less restless, also. Be well, and thanks for writing.

  5. Death defines life – the bookend that helps us create our story.

  6. Thanks, Karen, yes, it is true, always good to hear from you.

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