“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”
Seneca’s essay “On the Shortness of Life” was life changing for me. It took so many things that I inherently knew, and crystalized them in a way I could use. It was a punch to the gut every couple of paragraphs, but it was able to help me name the source of a quiet suffering I had been enduring: waste.
I don’t think we are happy when we are wasting things, whether it is time, money, relationship whatever.
We notice we are wasting money when money begins to run short, but we only seem to notice we are wasting time when it is “special” in our mind for some reason.
Visiting an elderly relative we very likely might not see again.
The last few days of a vacation.
It’s in these moments we are forced to realize that time is slipping by and that we might not be making the most of it, but if we really think about it, this is the case in every single day/hour/minute of our lives.
Our egocentric natures tell us we are the stars of our story, and that therefore our death will be monumental and meaningful and we’ll sort of see it coming.
The people we love are also stars, unique human beings with a backstory and hopes and dreams, so their death must be monumental and meaningful too, right?
The thing is, every human is special and unique and has a backstory and hopes and dreams and private thoughts and is the star of their own story. And they die from car wrecks and falls in the shower and medical mistakes and aneurysms and strokes and house fires every single day. The people around them and their backstory and hopes and dreams die every day too, and in similarly mundane circumstances.
I think this was one of the things I really enjoyed about the Game of Thrones books and Blood Meridian by Cormack McCarthy. You have these people who have stories and intricacies and nuance, and they die in the same way that characters without a name or a story or even a description dies. This is truer to life.
Even the people who die in monumentally noticeable ways probably didn’t see it coming.
Conspiracy theories aside, the people who walked into the World Trade buildings on 9/11/01 didn’t know they would be jumping out windows later that day, the non-terrorist passengers on the planes didn’t know they would not see their loved ones again and the kid in Pakistan who tackled the suicide bomber did not know that would be his last day at school.
These are people who died in ways we will remember, ways that might even make the history books, but they didn’t know it when they left the house that morning. There was no music, no slow-motion scene or montage of their past and the people they loved.
It’s like this for all of us. It’s what we all share, no matter what we think about afterlife/no afterlife, God/no God, all of that stuff – we will all die.
As I write this and have other ideas popping up, I think this will be the theme this week. The shortness of life, last times, how choices matter, the things that steal our time.
This might all sound morbid, but I think it is actually the most life-affirming thing in the world.
Everything has an end, so everything matters.