Monday, January 12, 2009

Memento Mori

The ancient Romans used to carve “MM” on the bases of statues and on the trunks of trees. The letters stand for Memento Mori: Remember Death. This was not intended to be morbid but to be a reminder that life is short and death is always near. It was a tool for perspective and discernment. Philosophers and writers might keep a skull or bone on their desk for the same reason. Carlos Castaneda recommended that we learn to live with death on our left shoulder and to consult him on our daily decisions.

Maybe it is one of the gifts that cancer gives. Death is close in Cancer Land. You look at the person you are caring for or you notice it in the others you see at chemo or in hospital. Ordinary doctor’s visits are never the same. You never know when a routine check-up will lead to that phone call, “The doctor would like you to come in for another test” or “I’d like you to see a colleague of mine.”

Can we accept death’s presence for the gift it is? Given that death is part of our lives and we see it, what really matters? Given that I will die, what do I really want?


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