Seneca on Death: Why Will You Die?

For no other reason other than the fact that you’re alive

Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash

“You will die not because you are sick but because you are alive. That end still awaits you when you have been cured.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic

Most of the time, we are oblivious to something essential we have in common with all other humans and living things:

We will, one day, die.

Even when death becomes something we can’t ignore, like when a friend or relative dies, we still foolishly regard it as something foreign, even avoidable and unique.

My mother immediately comes to mind. It has always struck me how intensely she mourns people’s deaths, whether it’s the death of a sibling, an acquaintance, or a distant relative she never even met.

It was odd, for instance, that when my father-in-law passed away from a protracted illness, she cried more than anyone in his immediate family, including his own wife and children. 

My mom shuns conversations about wills and such. One thing she has made clear, though, is that she wants to be kept alive, at any cost, for as long as possible.

My mom’s an extreme example of how difficult and even taboo it is to bring up the subject of every single person’s inescapable mortality. By contrast, we easily discuss beating all kinds of diseases and eliminating all manner of risks — as if by doing so we’ll come closer to beating death too.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of our common fate. Although some are at greater risk of dying from the Coronavirus, anyone who gets it could die, regardless of race, wealth or anything else. Why? Because they are alive.

Yes, the majority who fall ill will fortunately live on, for a while at least. Eventually, though, they too will die. In fact, the vast majority of the 7.8 billion or so people alive today will not be around in a hundred years! The world will be inhabited by billions of new humans.

Death confronts us with our arrogance and hubris. It reminds us that we’re not invincible and forces us to ask ourselves the simplest and most important questions: What matters? What impact are you having during your short residence on Earth?

When we overcome this virus, whether through a cure, vaccine or treatment, let us not forget that death still awaits every single one of us. How will you live your life before it comes?

This is my first piece for a 30-day writing challenge on a single topic.

Topic: Quotes from Seneca the Younger’s Letters from a Stoic

Why this topic? Because I can’t get over how timely and brilliant Seneca’s words are -2,000 years after he wrote them. 

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