A matter of life … and death.

Life and Death

There is probably not a day goes by without somebody saying to me that ‘life is short’.roman

Really? Is life really short? The average length of life here in the UK is about 82 years. That’s about 4,264 weeks – about 30,000 days. Compared with a Guinea Pig at 4 years, the Blue Tit at just over 1 year and the Mayfly at 24 hours, I think we get a pretty good deal!

I have just been reading an essay by the roman philosopher Lucius Seneca. Now, this essay was written no less than 2,000 years ago when life expectancy was around 40 years – less than half of today. The essay is amazing; here is the first quote from the essay:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”

Wow, powerful stuff. When we really let that passage sink in, how can we change the way we look at our life?

Here is another quote from Seneca:

“Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present. But the man who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for, nor fears the next day, nothing is ours, except time. We were entrusted by nature with the ownership of this single thing, so fleeting and slippery that anyone who will can oust us from possession”

How true is this! When we really stop and think about how we so often face each day as another battle and wearily go to our beds to prepare ourselves for tomorrows battle, and maybe promise ourselves that life will be better in the future. A future that may not even arrive?

One more from Seneca:

“Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man; yet there is nothing which is harder to learn… Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.”

I wonder if Mr Seneca would think his profound words of wisdom had got through if he were alive today? The one thing that we can all be absolutely sure of is that we are going to die. Death is that constant itch, it is always there .. and scratching at it never makes it go away. The watch that we wear on our wrist will carry on ticking long after we have gone. The days, month and years on the calendar will still be lived by others long after we have gone. Life is temporary – and that is what can give life its meaning. Death is what gives it its edge – it’s the key to progress, it’s what drives us forward, moves us to take action, to achieve, to leave our mark on the world. It is not life that impels us to get up in the morning … it is death.

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca: Penguin Great Ideas : (ISBN: 9780141018812)

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