A living man’s view on dying

Sean Dunn, Columnist

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

There’s a strange age dynamic within one of my friend groups. We all vary in our years, but we’re all close enough in age for it not to feel awkward. The strange part about it is that I don’t remember exactly the order of our age. It’s one of those innocuous details that we touch upon every once in a while, just for fun.

I do remember the oldest person in our group; it’s my friend, Will. Whenever age comes up, he loves to make the joke about dying first. He’ll some things like:

“I turn 25 next year. I’m going to die soon.”

“You don’t know what it’s like to be this old, okay?”

“You’ll just have to be aware of my old, shitty body.”

Laughs ensue, and our conversations continue.But, sometimes, it hits a deeper place, and gets me all existential.

Currently, I’m 23. I felt like I’ve lived a long life already. It hasn’t been particularly easy, but not particularly hard. I’ve seen a few hardships, but also a few blessings as well. Basically, a “normal” life full of ups and downs.

A cursory Google search says I have about 55 rotations around the sun left (according to the average). Isn’t that weird to think about? A calculated, quantified idea of how long I have left to live.

That’s not counting the possibilities of things that could go wrong. Diseases, accidents, bad luck, things like that. If you were so curious, you could find your calculated number of years, too.

Obviously it’s more complex than that, but the basic idea is the same: we all have an expiration date. It’s easy to not think about it when you’re young. Still, it’s one of those things that haunt the back of our minds. We age, we rust, we get older. Can’t do the things we used to.

Seems kind of scary. Even depressing, maybe. Maybe not so much.

How can death not be depressing?

There’s an ancient school of philosophy that I’ve done some researching on this past year: Stoicism. It’s hallmark leaders were Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, dramatist Lucius Annaeus Seneca (or just Seneca), and former slave Epictetus. These men wrote about different virtues and different vices, and the different pulls that keeps us, as human beings, on the eternally unbalanced scale of being our best selves.

One of the most poignant lessons they had to teach was that of “memento mori”. It’s Latin, and translates to “remember that you will die.” Why did the Stoics do this? Why did they keep reminding themselves that, sooner or later, death will come?

I’ll tell you now: it wasn’t to scare them, us, or anyone.

They reminded themselves of death so that they could finally live.

Let’s relate this back to being college students for a moment. There are lots of scary things that have to deal with, one of those things being deadlines and due dates. Times that tell us when we need to get things done.

But what’s worse is NOT having a due date. Not knowing when something is due. Because then, we slack, we put off, we don’t give a second glance. “Oh, we have time for that later,” we might say to ourselves.

Well, that’s life. No assigned due date. No expressed time to turn things in. It just comes.

This is not to say we should all look for a due date, nor is it meant to be getting you worried about dying in the next five minutes. What you should do with this information is to appreciate that you’re reading this. Appreciate that you’re living comfortably in a warm bed. Appreciate that you are able to attend college. Appreciate that your lungs are filling with air. Appreciate that your heart continues to pump blood throughout your body.

Appreciate it, because someday, you won’t have these gifts. While you’re at it, do something that means a lot to you. Call a friend. Visit your grandparents. Eat one of your favorite meals. Go on a long walk in the morning. Take care of yourself. Listen to an old song you haven’t in a while. Do the things you need to do, and know you’re a mortal human being who continues to try and be the best version of you that you can be.

We all have a certain amount of years left. Let’s make them count.