About death: Whether it is a dispersion, or a resolution into atoms, or annihilation, it is either extinction or change. – Marcus Aurelius
What does that mean?
Well, that’s pretty straightforward. You either cease to exist, or you change into something else. Either way, you are no longer the same, right?
Not that I’m that into death, but thinking about it does bring out the most interesting ideas. As someone who likes to divide things into two possibilities, this quote is just the kind of thing I like. It is either this or it is that. Clean and simple.
I believe the quote is talking about something other than the body, as what becomes of that is easily observed by those who have survived. But as simple as the possibilities are, I don’t think it matters which is right.
Either way, it is beyond our ability to know. All understand is our time here. Anything beyond it is limited to belief. The question is what will you do with your time here on Earth?
Why is living a good life important?
What do we know about life after death? Nothing. There are many beliefs, and many theories, but we have no proof, one way of another. This isn’t to disparage any beliefs, as I have a few of my own. However, we won’t know for sure until after it is too late to do anything about it, right?
So in the mean time, how shall we live our lives? For those who believe that there is something for us after this life, it makes sense to do what is necessary to ensure the best possible after-life, right? For those who believe nothing comes after, all we have is this life, why not live it well?
Either way, we have our lives on this Earth to live. How do we make our choices? How do we choose between things ‘good’ or things ‘evil’ and who decides which is which? That is where our ethics come into play. We can use our religious beliefs or we can use our secular beliefs to influence our decisions.
In general, we tend to be biased towards the good of ourselves and the good of others. The exact definition of good varies from person to person, and sometimes with the situation. Who is included in the ‘others’ we protect, as opposed to those we abandon, will also vary. But if we keep on trying to make that group larger, we will do better for all humanity, and I think that’s good.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Even though the quote is about death, I want to focus on that period of time before that event happens. That means our lives, from this point forward. What are you going to do between now and when it is all over? What have you been doing in the past? Are you comfortable with what you have done, or do you feel a need to work on a few things?
Let’s start by examining the past. If death came for you right now, how would you describe your life? What words would you use to recap your Earthly existence? Would ‘good’ show up, or would you be more likely to use the term ‘mostly good’? Would ‘kind’ or ‘compassionate’ show up on the list? What words would you use to describe how you treated others?
What is right for you is a decision you have to make, based on your beliefs and your values. What I think of your decisions should not have too great an influence on you. We are discussing your life, and your possible after-life, not mine. Have you ever set aside some time and thought about it before now?
This is one of those times when looking back at your life might not bring up the most pleasant memories. But your future is as bright as you wish it to be, and are willing to make it. What will you do to make your life better? What needs to change to treat yourself and others better? What can you do to include more people in the group called ‘others’?
Where you are is your starting point, nothing more. The rest of your life is before you. What will you do next? The past is behind you, leave it there. Bring only what you have learned forward from the past, and pledge to not repeat the mistakes you have made before.
As you look forward to where you want to go, what is the path you will travel? What is the first stop on that journey? Is it treating yourself better? Is it treating the same people better? Is it treating more people better? I don’t know the answer, as this is your journey. If you don’t know either, pick one, and start working on it.
Step by step, your future will unfold. If you do nothing different, you will get largely the same results. If you want different results, you will have to do things differently. What you change will depend on what you want to have happen differently. What are you going to change in your life, and when will you change it?
When death comes, don’t be afraid. It will be either extinction or it will be change. You cannot control either, nor can you pick between them. All you can hope to do is to look back on a life well lived. That life starts today. Make it count.