It was the early days of the pandemic. I was once again ingesting Instagram stories to milestone my inadequacies. This early morning torment had long been a an essential component in my morning caffeine/nicotine ceremony and that day’s postcards from nearby paradise should have been unremarkable.
But then, as other people’s lives automatically swept before me, there appeared a panning video of an empty, oceanfront kitchen. Details of real steel and mirror polished granite, boiling water taps and ice dispensers swept past, shining, in a placid Pacific sunrise. Typed across the image in overlarge, candy coloured curly font were the words: “Am I dead Yet?”
I laughed out loud and pressed whatever we press to say I thought that this thing was a good thing. A forgettable highlight from someone else’s life swept the image away and nothing else happened…
Except that the words “Am I Dead Yet?” have drifted left to right…right to left?…in my head,every day since.
Death doesn’t become me. I’ve never done it and I’m sure I never will so I’ve never found it much of a thing to talk about. Challengingly I’m married to a woman who seems to find nothing so enjoyable as a good talk about death: Past deaths, possible deaths, burial or cremation, Dying alone, Getting there in time. A long list of related death chats that I just can’t get in to. “Do you remember when Uncle Dan died…?” …”I just want to check the garage is locked, give me a minute”
My journey’s through Philosophy were made irritating as the giants of Stoicism; Seneca and Marcus Aurelius seemed determined to waste what must have been expensive and extremely scarce pieces of parchment banging on about death. Okay Marcus was Roman emperor and death often came to his precedents as a poisoned favourite snack delivered by a much loved advisor or a blade between the shoulders at any entrance to a room. And yup Seneca was fairly advanced in years when he started bothering Rome’s postmen with his flood of letters
And a short life expectancy was a thing in those days I guess. But as an early scholar of their work I pretty much just skipped past every chapter detailing the Stoic fascination with mortality.
Then came the Instagram “Am I dead Yet?” episode.
I wasn’t dead when I read that post. I am not dead now as I recount it. But as the post and those four words have visited me relentlessly since, I’ve realised the value, the life enhancing lesson that a developed relationship with “death” can give us. I’ve also realised why all the great minds, From Buddha to Montaigne, that I have tried to study, have devoted so much time to the subject.
I’ve discovered that to be at peace with ‘Death’ is a great gift. It has nothing to do with the experience of grieving and it will not halt or delay the moment when our hearts beat their last. But when we learn to understand the value of being at peace with our own “death”…in fact our own “deathS”, our lives become richer. It is the development of this understanding that has inspired me to create the collection: MOMENTO MORI. Through this work I will try to express my understanding and share the liberation I have found through learning to be at peace with “death”
It is important, I think, to stress that I am not writing here about grief or grieving the loss of someone we love. Grief is an emotional reaction and I do not have the skills or sensitivity to counsel or guide anyone through the often devastating experience of loss.
Why have I repeatedly used “” when I’ve written the word Death? Well, to fully come to terms with the D concept, I actually realised that if I changed my chosen definition of death then the word itself suddenly leapt into life with a whole new relevancy. What does the word mean to you? What images does it conjure? Illness? Disease? Old and Agedness? Solitude? Funerals? Graves?
Ok, me too (pre Instagram Story Epiphany) But, let’s change that definition. Death, with graves and funerals happens to people, living people. Let’s change our definition of death to be: Ending…Finishing…Being Over. Now, let’s take those definitions and try to apply them to people. “He Ended” She Finished” Doesn’t work really right?
But let’s apply them to periods of time. “My relationship ended” , “My time in that job is over now” “She finished living in that town”. “I am finished with xyz”, “This is over now”Really not so traumatic right?
And let’s extend that to think of the now, in relation to the future…
“One day, however hard I wish it otherwise, this relationship will be over”
“The simple fact is, at some point in the future, my career will end, there is no escaping it”
Or let’s try
“It is inevitable, that my present degree of popularity/beauty/success will decline and one day be finished”
Ok so these are not cheerful statements, I know that. But consider them, really sit with them. Now, think of the present. Think of what you currently have or your current circumstances against the background of accepting that one day it will end. How much more do you value your partner? How much more could you enjoy your career? The more you can accept that these things (and in fact, ultimately your life) will one day end, the more you will appreciate what you have and the more you will savour your day today.
We all know the phrase Carpe Diem. How much more do you understand its meaning when we extend it to be “Memento Mori, Carpe Diem” Remember Death and seize the day.
Our careers will end. In other words our careers will die and be gone. Our relationships, they too WILL end. And yes, our lives, will end. Those alongside us will one day not be there. To accept this, is not to be morbid or pessimistic. To accept this fact and to find peace with it is the seed that will blossom into making our every day more full. It is the lens through which the colours of our lives will appear more vivid, the sounds more fleeting and precious and the flavours of every meal more satisfying. To accept and understand in every detail the exactitude, inevitability and finality of arriving at our destination can help us enjoy every step of our journey.
It was this realisation that led me to create my MOMENTO MORI collection. It is my hope, that those of you who acquire an edition piece from this collection, whether it be in NFT or print form will choose to reflect on the hand written messages I have added to each image: “Am I Dead Yet?” If indeed you are not, may these images then prompt you to ask yourself just how fully you are choosing to experience life.
So I ask you, here and in the embodiment of my new collection of images: Are you Dead yet? If not, how well are you choosing to live?