Thursday, November 29, 2012

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 live with death on our left shoulder and to consult him on our daily decisions.

Maybe this is one of cancer’s gifts. Death is close by in Cancer Land. You look at the person you are caring for, or you notice it in the others you meet at chemo or in hospital. Ordinary doctor 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 that it is? Given that death is part of our lives it reminds us to ask, “What really matters?” Given that I will die, what do I really want?

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