Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, For Today We Learn How To DiePosted: May 25, 2011 | Author: Greg Linster | Filed under: Stoicism | 7 Comments »
The utterer of the phrase “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is statistically more likely to be wrong than right. If one were to continue to utter that phrase every day, however, one day they’d eventually be right. How often do you think about that? How often do you go through the motions and take life for granted? One day you’ll have your last cup of coffee, your last meal, your last glass of wine, your last encounter with your friends and family, and your last embrace with your spouse or lover. Alas, the truly tragic thing is that most of us probably won’t realize we’re enjoying these things for the last time at the precise moment when we are. We may never get to say a last goodbye and we may not understand how short and fragile life really is, until it’s too late.
These thoughts are not meant to cause an existential crisis, but rather I think they help us in our study of learning how to die. After-all, according to the Stoic philosopher, Seneca, we can’t really learn how to live until we’ve learned how to die. Or as Leonardo Da Vinci put it, “While I thought I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” Learning how to die is all about understanding the nature of time. It is about embracing the preciousness of the present moment, although not necessarily in a reckless or hedonistic kind of way. The future may indeed come and I think it’s wise to be prepared for that as well.
Time is, however, one of our most precious gifts, but it’s a truly scarce resource. It’s scarce in a way that many other things are not. Trees are scarce, but yet we can always grow more trees. Money is scarce, but yet we can always make more of it. When you waste time, it’s gone forever. Strangely, many people fritter their time away as if it were some superfluous commodity that we can manufacture or grow more of. How differently I suspect each of us would live if we knew exactly how much of this scarce resource called time we had left.
In his essay, “On the Shortness of Life“, Seneca said: “Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present. But the man who spends all his time on his own needs, who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day.” In other words, there is no reason to be afraid of tomorrow unless you’re living poorly today. If tomorrow were your last day would you be happy with how you’re spending today? If your answer to that question scares you, I suspect you haven’t learned how to die yet. Fear not, today is the perfect day to learn how to die.