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STOIC POETRY | The past is in the possession of death

Death possesses us piecemeal. We are taken slowly, day by day, hour by hour, and across every minute of our life. We start dying the moment we are conceived and begin leaving behind us a trail of past experience consumed by time. This moment just now - right now - is when we are actually alive; as the very next instant the preceding moment dies entering the past. We move then each instant forward like a sputtering, sparking flame burning along a bomb fuse, extinguishing into ash each current experience in favor of the new circumstance just now arrived. Hiss, sputter, and spark as the flame moves on; a frail, fiery procession of burning moments consuming at once our current living while we gaze longingly in the direction of a darkened tomorrow which we promise ourselves is there, though we can see nothing real beyond the gloom.

Whatever years lie behind us are in death's hands. -Seneca the Younger

None know the true measure of their death in relation to how long they will actually live. If we die today, then when we woke this morning, we were already mostly dead. That day, Eric, when both you and Joe Bob died, you were each already mostly dead, though you were, in fact, still very young and healthy and Joe Bob was quite old and sick. For when you woke together that day of death, each of your fuses was nearly run. The length of life behind you each hardly mattered as first Joe Bob's life sputtered and went dark, and then you severed your own cord and sparked away to nothing. And you saw the darkness coming. In fact, you mastered fortune in deciding your own way, not by overcoming fortune, but by recognizing and abiding the dictate of your own principles relative to the larger unfolding of your life. You responded to life by electing death when that course appeared to you the correct way to proceed. And though I may never agree with your reasons Eric, I do respect your sense of principle and your fortitude in the execution of your will.

Would it not then be wise to remember always that, with no guarantee of future days ahead, and a lifetime of extinguished days behind, we are then seemingly this moment always mostly dead. We are always just now on the precipice of abyss. We are forever treading water with difficulty above deep, dark depths. Warm and happy in our beds at night our life is truly mostly done. Reveling with health among friends, death has already gathered and collected us each to itself; and while we laugh and speak with abandon into the night, death waits just beyond that next moment without promise. Such folly to turn from that specter lingering just beyond the light, denying its always immediate presence and purpose, telling ourselves tomorrow is real despite the power of fortune to both give and deny.

For my part, I will attempt to acknowledge now that I am already mostly dead. I will see death standing just there before me. I will note the darkness from which my fuse has emerged and into which it seemingly proceeds. I will squint my eyes and agree that I cannot see clearly any further than now. The fuse may indeed be nearly done. Death standing ahead may now refuse to step back or aside. I may be done now, or now, or again now. And I will not despair of this fact but will live better for it. I will burn this instant always ready to flame out the next. What more can I honestly do? How better could I possibly live?


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.


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