Memento Mori for my Birthday
My birthday passed by recently and I found myself questioning how a Stoic would perceive birthdays. I haven’t read any classic texts on the topic so I can only speculate.
The natural progression of time is out of my control, therefore it is nothing to me. With that, my age is also out of my control. 33 is no more significant than 1, 18, or 65. Therefore, the number also means nothing to me. My birthdays should remind me of my own mortality and serve as an opportunity to pursue virtue.
Memento Mori translates to “remember that you will die.” This is essentially the more morbid version of “carpe diem” or “seize the day.” You only have the time you have, so make the most out of the moment. I have read that Stoic Generals would have servants whisper this to them while on parade after a victory; even when celebrating a great victory you should be mindful and appreciative of what you have. By reminding myself of death I should strengthen my appreciation for the moment and life. What I’d like to strive for is Marcus Aurelius definition of perfect character:
“To live each day as though one’s last, never flustered, never apathetic, never attitudinizing — here is perfection of character.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditation 7.69
There are many translations of that quote, this being one of my favourites, particularly the word “attitudinizing.” I have found that I often proclaim strong attitudes for things simply for effect; often it’s comedic effect, but I wonder if is still wrong? I believe that as long as I know the truth then I can remain virtuous, because there is solidarity in sharing a laugh with your friends so long as no one is hurt in getting the laugh.
My birthday can also remind me to celebrate and appreciate my parents and everyone else that has helped me become who I am and get to where I am—so thanks everyone!