The worms crawl in and the worms crawl out
The ones that go in are lean and thin
The ones that crawl out are fat and stout
Your eyes fall in and your teeth fall out
Your brains come tumbling down your snout
Be merry, my friends, be merry
~The Pogues (from a traditional song?)
he Roman poet Horace’s famous injunction carpe diem, seize the day, was directly related in his mind to another expression: memento mori, remember that you are mortal.
At the time of this writing, the longest lifespan documented for a human being is that of a French woman named Jeanne Calment (1875–1997), who lived to be 122 and a half years old. Most of us expect to live into our 90s at best, and only if we don’t succumb to disease, die in an accident, or get murdered sooner. Tragedies do happen. Any of us could go at any time.
Consummate naturalists might wish for immortality as ardently as our friends the supernaturalists, but cannot help but see the writing on the wall, and are pretty sure that death is final. Oblivion. A dreamless sleep.
I’d love to live forever or at least for a few thousand years if I could keep my mental and physical health throughout it. Our medical science isn’t far enough along, though, to realize this fantasy. I’m forced to acknowledge that I could die at any time. And I see strong evidence to suggest that beliefs about an afterlife are unfounded.
Theists seethe with contempt for the notion that this life is “all there is.” Delayed gratification is central to their way of living. They’ve been promised since childhood that the soul not only survives the death of the body but spends the rest of eternity in ultimate bliss, and they’ve banked on that promise.
If you are newly faithless – an ex-theist shifting away from the religion of your childhood to a naturalistic philosophy – the loss of your immortality is psychologically devastating. It’s like being told by your doctor that you have a terrible cancer and have at best three weeks to live, when you had planned to be around for so much longer. It simply changes everything. It’s hard to see how embracing your mortality could actually be a good thing.
But those who embrace their mortality gain something precious: they come to recognize the vital importance of single moments. They take to heart the advice in Rudyard Kipling’s poem If to “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.”
The most important thing in the whole world is this moment, right now. The best way to use the moment is to enjoy it. The way to enjoy it is to dance, to laugh, to love, to be kind to others, to appreciate the beauty of the universe and of life, and to delight in good things.
- “Jeanne Calment, World’s Elder, Dies at 122”, New York Times, By CRAIG R. WHITNEY, August 5, 1997, See http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C01E7D7113DF936A3575BC0A961958260↩
- Read the whole poem here: http://www.everypoet.com/archive/poetry/Rudyard_Kipling/kipling_if.htm↩