Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Death Will Seem Surreal Soon In the Sunshine Afternoon

I've mentioned before how I'm sort of lukewarm on Stoicism as a philosophy, but I always liked Epictetus' advice that "In the very act of kissing a child, we should silently reflect on the possibility that she will die tomorrow." Not because it will somehow make it easier when death finally comes, but because living with that acute awareness of how fragile and unpredictable life can be makes it easier to truly appreciate what you have when you have it.

I was at the doctor's for my yearly checkup today. As I was leaving, the receptionist asked when he wanted to see me back.

"Next year."

"Okay, would you like to go ahead and make that appointment now?"

"Uhh... um, yeah, sure."

I hesitated for a moment because I suddenly had the odd thought that it seemed awfully cocksure to make an appointment that far in advance. Who knows whether we'll all still be alive by then? Car accidents, aneurysms, defective heart valves, suicide, various terminal illnesses, a meteor strike — there's an awful lot of ways for even the youngest and healthiest of us to go when you stop to think about it. If you ask me, prognostications should be limited to a week ahead, maybe two if you're feeling brave. After that, they should be appended by, "...assuming we're still alive then, that is." It would only be honest.

I didn't share my musings with her. She didn't look like someone who would appreciate a disquisition on ancient philosophies. Besides, the phone was ringing.

Yeah, that's the thing Epictetus forgot to mention — cultivating such a fey sensibility can turn even routine small talk into a ripe opportunity for awkward embarrassment.

1 comment:

Shanna said...

I wouldn't worry about it, I'm sure Epictetus had a small opinion of small talk too.