Memento Mori

I want to talk to you about a morbid theme but one which the greats of history have used to sharpen their sense of destiny and align their lives. I want to talk to you about death.

We know from the writings of the ancients that human beings have, for millennia, contemplated their deaths in order to shine light on their lives. It was not uncommon for the Greeks or Romans to encourage each other to memento mori—“remember death.” They believed that if they could challenge their companions to ponder their deaths from time to time, all would live more deeply, less frivolously, more intentionally.

You are likely familiar with this practice. It is not uncommon for leaders of corporate retreats today to encourage attendees to write their obituaries as they would like for them to be. At one retreat I know of, people were encouraged to write the funeral oration they would want their best friend to give. This way of thinking forces us to ponder our lives from the grave, view it from the end of our days. What will we want to have accomplished? How do we hope we have impacted our loved ones? What will we want to have built, given, encouraged, changed or modeled? All of this comes from pondering life from its end.

It was not just the ancients who thought this way. Bible readers know that Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “Death is the destiny of all people and the living should take this to heart.” In the great cathedrals of Europe, it is common to see skulls built into the architecture. Ask a docent why those skulls are there and you will be told, “In order that men may contemplate their mortality.”

Winston Churchill thought in much the same way. He once said, “When the tones of life ring false, we should turn to the tuning fork of death.” He meant that lives that have become vapid, aimless, and unproductive get realigned by looking at life from the edge of the grave.

I want to urge you to make this your practice. I do this for two reasons. First, it is a mechanism of forcing you to ponder your destiny, your higher sense of purpose, and keeping this constantly in focus as you live and you lead.

Second, though, it is a wonderful tool for adjusting how you live with the people around you. I started doing this years ago and it made a huge difference in how I loved, served, led, and enjoyed the people in my life. None of these reflections depressed me. None of them made me morbid. All of them brought great insight.

Take time for this. Journal it. Write out fictional obituaries and funeral speeches if it helps. The main goal is to memento mori—consider life in light of death. Then, live—and lead—more meaningfully.

2019-02-13T15:59:35+00:00February 13th, 2019|Leading Thoughts|