It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live. – Marcus Aurelius
What does that mean?
While this appears to be an interesting German to English translation, the core of the quote remains the same, and a longer version is included at the bottom of the post.
The quote is about the time of death, and how it isn’t proper to fear it. Life comes and life goes. As birth begins our journey, so death is at the other end of the line. There isn’t anything to fear.
Instead, the quote urges us to consider whether we have truly lived at all, or if we have simply existed for some time. It implies we should live “according to nature” which is his way of saying do it properly.
The longer quote finishes with the thought that those who have truly lived will be worthy of the universe which has created them. A very nice thought.
Why is remembering to live important?
We all have some time on this Earth, and at some point we will die. That is a fact. But what will we do between the moment of birth and the moment of death? That is the question the quote begs us to consider. Have we really lived, and was that a vibrant and natural life? Or were we just here, taking up space and converting oxygen into carbon dioxide?
Living is up to us. What do we consider important in life, how do we want to prioritize and what do we want to accomplish? These are part of what makes our lives our own, and how we express ourselves. Whether that is by how we dress, what we like to watch or listen to, what we read, it’s up to us to be ourselves, and to live our lives.
The longer version of the quote qualifies living as “living according to nature” or in a natural manner. To me, this implies that we should keep true to our own nature, and not be too concerned with the artificial constraints we often find around us. It’s OK to be a little different, just remember that society has limits of acceptance.
If we fail to live our lives, if we simply conform to the societal norm and surrender our unique views and talents, how can we say we have truly lived? What can we point to and say we lived in accordance with nature, and with our own personal nature? That’s why I feel it is important to remember to truly live our lives, each day we have.
Where can I apply this in my life?
I’m quirky. Writing a blog on the practical application of quotes found on Twitter is a pretty odd way to get started. But it is part of how I live my own life, and how I express what is in me, what is unique about me, what drives me to live my life in my own way. It’s part of what gets me up in the morning.
And while I have done some stupid things, many of which could have ended my life, I’m still mostly thinking of death as a far-away thing. So while I don’t fear death, neither am I sufficiently acquainted with it to have particular reason to fear it. In the meantime, I’m doing what I can to live my life as best and as fully as I can.
Take a moment and consider some of the things which make you feel alive, and a part of this world. What are they, and how recently or frequently have you done them? What makes you a unique and special person? Note that this isn’t always the same as popular, but you are still you, right?
Having thought about that, do you do these things often enough to consider your life as fully lived, or are you afraid to begin to live your life? What could you do more often? What could you add to the list of things to do? How could you live your life more fully and more enthusiastically? Have you ever taken time to think about it before?
The other part of the quote deals with death, and the fear thereof. I don’t generally fear it at the moment, but neither am I in a life-threatening situation, so my advice is at best thoughts from the bleachers, not from the field of play. I don’t fear it, as it is a natural part of life. That said, I intend to fight it with all I have, when my time comes.
But what are your thoughts on death? Do you fear it? Do you have a healthy respect for it? Does the very thought of it cause you great distress? Do you know where these feelings come from, and how to come to grip with them? These can be very difficult, but very rewarding things to consider, and even better if you can come to grips with them, with the concept of death.
We are all in that state between birth and death. But how many of us are actually living? What will you do today to live your life in a more complete and natural way? Your life, your choice. Get busy.
Meditations, Book 12, paragraph 1 (slightly longer, alternate translation)
If then, whatever the time may be when thou shalt be near to thy departure, neglecting everything else thou shalt respect only thy ruling faculty and the divinity within thee, and if thou shalt be afraid not because thou must some time cease to live, but if thou shalt fear never to have begun to live according to nature – then thou wilt be a man worthy of the universe which has produced thee, and thou wilt cease to be a stranger in thy native land, and to wonder at things which happen daily as if they were something unexpected, and to be dependent on this or that.