Over the past couple of weeks it’s been go, go, go for our family and at work. Almost all of it has been good things, positive things, things that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and learned from. The issue is that I’ve gotten tired and feel a little run ragged. Times like this is when I’m more likely to get frustrated, be less upbeat, and not the positive and optimistic me that I enjoy being most.
In the past few days there’s been a phrase that’s been hanging around in the back of my brain… Memento mori… It just stays behind a couple of more active thoughts and then quietly whispers in my ear when I start to forget that I heard it the last time… Memento mori… As I’m enjoying a moment with family or at work it slips back into my head… Memento mori…
Finally, it clicked. I happened across an old quote from Teddy Roosevelt that helped me lock on to this thought and figure out why it’s been haunting me for the past few days. “We must all either wear out or rust out, every one of us. My choice is to wear out.”
In a snap, I had the spark of inspiration I needed. I left the office to go on lunch, hopped in my car, and headed out to a place I’d never gone in my almost two decades of working in Winona… Woodlawn Cemetery.
I drove in a little ways, parked my car, and just walked. It just felt right so I threw in my headphones and listened to The Strumbellas (one of the lyrics included “We walked in the night past the pines, the graveyard told stories of everyone’s lives” – fitting, huh?). Wandering with no specific destination in mind I just walked… and was present in the moment… taking in the smells of autumn… feeling the cool breeze blow across my face…
At one point the wind blew life into the trees and I was instantly awash in a storm of yellow leaves. It was awes inspiring, feeling like I was in the middle of a giant flock of butterflies.
I walked past the stone markers that showed where a person who was once alive now was laid as they were absorbed back by the earth. In passing them I quickly read their names, the dates of birth and death, symbols of their faith, and their titles… Mother, Father, Child, Baby… That was the only story told by their gravestones now. The dash, the most important part of their life, left a mystery to those who past.
In life they were vibrant, human, and full of emotion. They probably had many accomplishments, failures, memories, and friends. Maybe they had money, maybe they had none. In this place now they are all the same, all equals, all of the earth. To a person I would imagine they all wished they could’ve had one more day, that they would’ve done something extra, had tried something new, had told someone that they loved them one more time… But that chance was gone, they ran out of time.
Life is the race that we’re all destined to lose at one point, we need to remember to enjoy the journey, to pull every last drop of life we can from it. To burn bright, enjoy life, be happy, and work hard. We’re meant to give all that we can. In the end, there aren’t any more moments to try harder, to finish what was left undone, to try what we were afraid to do, to accomplish what we were too tired to do.
Walking through the graves reminded me of those thoughts, helped me see the world through their eyes, to see what would they have done differently if they could have a second chance.
Memento mori… Latin for “Remember you will die.”
On the surface it seems so cold, so harsh, so final, but in actuality it is a beautiful gift. Remembering that we will one day die is one of the greatest gifts we have. We know that our time is limited, we just need to keep that in mind and remember to live with that thought in mind.
Yes, I could slow down. Yes, I could take a breather. Yes, I could pause… But I don’t want to! “My choice it to wear out.” Feeling tired is proof of the success of this endeavor. Memento mori…