Memento mori, or why it is always good to be reminded that we are all mortal…

So did you miss me? Obviously not as not a feckin’ one of you seemed to notice I was gone. Even the mods did not comment on my absence. I feel like one of those lonely aul fellas where they only find the dead body 6 months in when the neighbours complain about the smell.

For lent, I went off the news, social media and writing for Slugger. Put simply following NI politics was wrecking my head. It was all getting me down so I thought drastic action was called for. I took away the punchbowl, ladle and all the glasses.

So what did I miss? Nothing much it seems. The Ukrainians are Russians are still blowing each other to bits; our local politics is still a complete sh*tshow. When you follow Twitter and breaking news you always think stuff is happening all the time but when you step away from it all you realise nothing much ever changes. Several weeks have passed since the end of Lent and it is only now I can face writing some new posts.

I am not after your pity, to be honest, it was fantastic relief knowing that the good ship Slugger was able to chug along merrily without me. I long ago learned the lesson that none of us is as indispensable as we think. I was a .com kid in my 20s, and we had a tech startup with 18 employees. For years I never took holidays thinking I was indispensable to the running of the company. When I eventually left, I felt sure they would be on the phone all the time asking me questions, but in reality, the phone did not ring once – my, was that a rude awakening.

The Romans were clever pups and know the importance of checking your ego, from The Daily Stoic:

Memento Mori is believed to have originated from an ancient Roman tradition.

After a major military victory, the triumphant military generals were paraded through the streets to the roars of the masses. The ceremonial procession could span the course of a day with the military leader riding in a chariot drawn by four horses. There was not a more coveted honor. The general was idolized, viewed as divine by his troops and the public alike. But riding in the same chariot, standing just behind the worshipped general, was a slave. The slave’s sole responsibility for the entirety of the procession was to whisper in the general’s ear continuously, “Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori!”

“Look behind. Remember thou art mortal. Remember you must die!”

The slave served to remind the victor at the peak of glory, this god-like adoration would soon end, while the truth of his mortality remained.

All the time I meet people with a martyr complex. Thinking they need to stay in a job, relationship or situation because they have an inflated sense of their own importance. Now of course you may be important, but the key lesson is the reaper cares not a jot for you or your commitments.

If you are in a stressful job or situation, it can be good to imagine what would happen if you died. I promise it is not as depressing an exercise as it sounds. Say you are one of our many burnt-out GPs; what would actually happen if you kneeled over? Would all your patients never get medical attention again? Would your practice shut its doors forever? Or would people mourn you for a few days and then move on? Would they just replace you with a locum or new partner? Worst case would the patients just register with another practice? Like goes on kid.

Now I tell you this not to depress you or make you all quit your jobs on Monday morning but to remind you that when we zoom out and gain perspective your problems may not seem so overwhelming. Your fight with your boss may be keeping you up at night but but it a year or two it will be but a grain of sand in the beach of time.

YouTube video

Nor and I advocating passive fatalism. If we take the work example if you are stressed at work the sensible option might be too quit but another less extreme strategy is ‘work to rule’, do what is expected of you and no more. Don’t answer emails at home, don’t stay late, don’t work over your hours, when you leave work switch off. If you can afford to work part time do.

Now I know all this is easier said than done, many of us are working from home and work has merged into our private lives like never before. I envy the previous generation. My da used to be a builder, he enjoyed a clear distinction before home and work. With my work my iphone acts as a digital leash ensuring that I am never off. It is worse than a leash, it is a digital IV drip of all the worlds misery into my head. Jez as I write that last sentence it really reminds me that my number one priority in life is too stay the hell of the internet more.

I shall leave you with the words of one of the early bloggers, Solomon. Writing in Ecclesiastes:

The words of the Teacher,[a] son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

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