“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”. –Psalm 90:12
Compared to most of my previous weekends, the past Saturday and Sunday were filled with a variety of activities that would tire me out. On top of this, I had a couple speaking engagements that I knew would be enjoyable, but would also drain me. All of this was circling in my head when a friend approached me on the previous Thursday with an invitation. He told me that he had two available tickets to a father-daughter dance for the upcoming Saturday, and he wanted to know if I would want to take my girl.
A dialogue instantly began in my head.
One voice said that I would need to rest on the weekend because of how I was worn down by the work week.
That my daughter is still pretty young and I could always do it next year when the timing would be better.
That I will be too emotionally drained from the public speaking to be worth anything to her during that time.
That it would be easier to just say no because I had not been planning on it.
The other voice nudged me towards going to to the dance; I didn’t really have anything to lose except for comfort, and I knew she would have a blast.
As I was thinking through the daddy-daughter-dance-dilemma, a recently-heard rhetorical question quickly rose up from my subconscious
I had heard someone recently talk about nostalgia and regret in our lives, and they posted this kind of question for reflection:
“What parts of your day are you taking for granted, that sixty years from now you would pay a fortune to relive?”
“What aspects of your day are you preforming on autopilot that you would give anything to be experiencing again?”
“How would you live your life if you knew that you would have to eternally relive this life in a kind of infinite loop?”
Something else that surfaced was the idea of memento mori. When translated from Latin, it means something like “remember that you will die”.
While at first glimpse this may sound macabre – and frankly even more so in a post about some father-daughter time – I think it is wildly relevant and an invitation to life. This saying emerged through medieval Christianity, and one of the primary manifestations was in art. Artists would create these beautiful, pastoral, and pseudo-utopian scenes in paintings, but then add a skull or tomb somewhere in the piece of art as a reminder that death will eventually come.
If memento mori could be distilled down to its essence, it would be that how we live our lives in the present should be shaped by the understanding that one day will be our day. It’s the idea that we shouldn’t passively living out our hours, days, and years as if they’d continue on ad infinitum. Think of it as a more existentially robust YOLO, without the bent towards hedonism.
Our culture tries to largely avoid the issue of our mortality. Memento mori spurs us to live with eyes open to our pending mortality and allow that to sculpt our priorities and schedules down all the way to the seemingly mundane aspects of our lives. As the Psalmist said, “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”.
All this talk of mortality and Latin phrases can make one’s head spin; it begs the question of how it intersects with our lives, because if these ideas merely remain ethereal than they remain elusive theory and not helpful wisdom.
So what does memento mori look like when implemented?
How should these rhetorical questions sculpt our days?
I try – and I mean try – to not get bogged down in a dizzying web of angst and lethargy that can accompany the sense that all is vapor.
Instead, these questions have first caused me to attempt to recognize common moments I now take for granted, but that I anticipate will have a shimmer to them in a few decades.
Once recognized, I then try to be consciously present in those moments – to deeply drink them in. I’m striving to bask in them as much as I can in the moment, knowing that the moment is indeed fleeting, and all that will be left is a delicate memory. I try to pause more and bask in the glory that surrounds me, even if it is such a mundane glory that I can’t see it.
As I was processing through all of this – and potentially drooling on myself during the process – it became evident to me that not going to the dance was the easy, lazy, and cowardly way out for me. While I may need to dig a little deeper for some energy or attitude, the fruit would be priceless. I would be taking an advantage of an opportunity that I would never have again, even if there were more dances down the road.
So I heeded the call, and we crushed that dance in the most radiant and jubilant way possible. We danced to Taylor and JT, ate way too much sugar (sorry Mom), and took some selfies. I had a chance to prodigally dote on her, letting her know that she’s beloved.
While it was a victory for me, it was more importantly a challenge. It caused me to reflect on how frequently I focus on the flashy and urgent at the expense of the priceless. It is too for me to invest time and energy in temporary endeavors and stressors, as opposed to taking a few minutes and play some nonsensical game that my daughter just invented.
How can I become more attuned to what is important, the small moments of sapphire and emerald that are present in all of my days, but are also oddly tough to recognize?
I hope that memento mori can be a source of inspiration, grounding, and prioritization in my life. I hope that my heart can be like the Psalmist’s, who recognizes that an awareness of our mortality and the transience of our lives can be a remarkable source of power and wisdom.