It is as foolish to fear death as it is to fear old age; for just as old age follows youth, thus death follows old age. – Seneca
What does that mean?
This is another quote shortened for use on Twitter. The full text of Section 30 (or XXX in Roman Numerals), “ON CONQUERING THE CONQUEROR,” is a worthy read.
A more complete version of today’s quote is :
“He says that it is as foolish to fear death as to fear old age; for death follows old age precisely as old age follows youth. He who does not wish to die cannot have wished to live. For life is granted to us with the reservation that we shall die; to this end our path leads.”
This is as old as life itself. If you are born, you will die. As birth is followed by youth, and youth by old age, so old age is followed by death. That’s just the way it is.
Some may divide the time between birth and death into more segments than that, but the pattern, the arc, is still the same. What you believe happens after death is independent of this quote.
Why is understanding important?
We silly humans. It is one thing to fight for what we want. But some go to extraordinary lengths on the promise that they might get a few extra months or even years by modeling a particular behavior. Nothing is guaranteed. No program works for everyone. Who knows, you might get hit by a bus crossing the street. It happens.
Instead of fearing death, dreading it, or trying to evade or hide from it, the quote suggests that we attempt to understand it. The first step in doing that is to realize the place in life which is prepared for death. Consider that death is the other side of the coin of life, it becomes a little easier to understand.
How thin do you have to cut the coin to separate life from death? If you cut it in half, one side is still life, the other is still death. There’s just less coin between them. Once you get that thought into your head, that it will happen, you can stop worrying about death, and actually live your life.
Understanding what life is, and how it works, is complex. There are volumes of works on life from the molecular level all the way up. Some people spend their whole life thinking about it. I’d rather take some reasonable precautions, and then live my life. After all, that’s where the fun is.
Where can I apply this in my life?
How do you feel about death? Are you afraid of it? Are you constantly looking over your shoulder to see if it’s gaining on you? Or are you walking calmly forward, living your life, knowing that when the time comes, you will be ready? I’m not advocating risky behavior or avoidance of medical care, just stating the reality of the situation.
When my kids were little, they didn’t like the idea of death. I explained it this way: If we didn’t die, neither would anything else. Imagine none of the dinosaurs ever died. Would you want to have to worry about a T-Rex? What about all the bugs. What if none of them ever died? Would you want that? Death is the only thing fair about life. We all are born, we all die.
They still aren’t that thrilled with the concept, and aren’t in any hurry, but they now have some perspective. And that’s all I needed, for them to understand how things work. From there, we worked on basic respect for our bodies, eating well and keeping clean. After that, it’s just a matter of managing risk.
What happens after death is unknown, although many people have beliefs relating to what comes next. This quote, especially the longer passage, is about preparing for departing this life. Specifically it talks at length about accepting this course of events, the arc of our lives, with grace.
Seneca states that he was familiar with the concept, but in talking to a man in his final days realized the truth in the words. Fear of death only serves to suck the joy out of what life we have. And that is truly a waste of the greatest gift we have, that of our lives.
Our lives are to be lived in pursuit of thoughts, ideals, goals, or in search of pleasures. It is wasted when we worry, focus on what might happen to us in the future, or that one thing which will most definitely happen; death. Death is simply the other end of the arc of life from birth.
Do you fear death? Or do you accept it, and hope to avoid meeting it any time soon? How much of your time, effort, and emotion are spent trying to avoid or ignore death? Would that time be better spent enjoying the things which life provides? Not a complete abandonment of reason in pursuit of pleasure, but to enjoy what you have?
Some spend their lives trying to cheat death. I’m not advocating seeking death out, but neither am I suggesting that we waste even one moment fearing or worrying about it. It will come for us in due course. Perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps not for decades. But come it will.
From: Twitter, @quotesofseneca
confirmed at : http://www.stoics.com/seneca_epistles_book_1.html#‘XXX1 the page listed as Ep1-217, or search for “fear death”
Photo by Jamie McCaffrey