The Shortness of Life

Updated: May 21, 2021

A reflection on a life worth living and a death worth dying

The dark side, the underbelly, the unspoken truth, the fear that grips every rational man - Death. We brush it under the rug, we don’t speak about it, we don’t live in acknowledgement. We live in denial, behave like an ostrich and find it socially unacceptable to talk about death as much as we do about life and people in that life.

It's like the stairway-to-hell that everyone knows is there, but everyone pretends not to see. Rather, we are too afraid to see, even peak. We want to stay in the light and illuminate out day and nights with that light-of-life. The stoics talk about "memento mori"- to be cognizant of one's mortality and to live each day with that realization at the back of one's mind.

I did a light-experiment recently. The lens shows you the perspective from where you want to see the object. The view-finder always sees through your eyes, which see through your experiences, biases, upbringing, concept of life. Looking straight at the staircase divided by light one sees the binary - light and dark. But change the perspective, tilt your head a little to the right and we can see the symbiosis that is a part of every duality in life. We can peek at life from the darkness and perhaps see the intertwined beauty. The dark illuminates the light much brighter than the light could ever do itself. And it's not just about illumination, one must not just be "able to see" but, "be able to see clearly and understand". This is what darkness offers - a perspective, an insight, a deeper meaning, the clarity.

Why to speak about darkness? Why to practice "memento mori"? Seneca explains it the best in "On the shortness of life"-

"The part of life we live is really small . . . . . . You live as if you were destined to live forever, no though of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed . . . . . . . It takes the whole life to learn how to live, and - what will perhaps make you wonder more - it takes the whole of life to learn how to die"

Should we then only think about death and do no more ? No!

Let's take a leaf out of Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy for this - "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."

And learn not in the academic sense. Learn how to wake up, how to sleep, how to eat, how to think, how to cry, how to hold someone when they cry, how to try when everything seems against you, hot to never wrong others, how to not hold a grudge, how to achieve your highest self, how to care, how to love, how to live - not just survive.