Adjusting Your Horizon of Deathpectation

Seneca, Moral Epistles 61

“We should stop wanting what we used to. I am surely doing that. As an old man, I stopped wanting those things I did as a boy. My days, my nights, my labor are in this alone, this thought: to bring some end to long-lasting problems. I am acting as if each day is a whole life. By Heracles, I am not “seizing the day as if it is the last”, although I suspect that it is. I am writing this letter with that in mind–as if death might call me even as I write. it. I am ready to leave and I am enjoying life because I am not worrying too much about how long in the future this will be.

Before old age, I was dedicated to living well; now that I am old, it’s about dying well. Dying well is dying freely. Put a lot of effort into never doing something unwillingly. Something that is required should you refuse it is a choice if you want it. I mean this: whoever accepts orders freely avoids the worst part of slavery: doing what you don’t want to. Someone who is ordered to do something is not unhappy, but someone who works unwillingly is miserable.

So, Let us rearrange our thoughts to want whatever a matter asks of us and foremost that we may think about our death without sadness. We should be preparing for death before life. Life is well enough equipped, but we are too greedy for its accommodations. Something seems missing; something always seems missing.  Whether we have lived long enough isn’t about years or days but the mind. I have lived long enough, dearest Lucilius. I am awaiting death, full. Goodbye.

Desinamus, quod voluimus, velle. Ego certe id ago: senex ea desii velle quae puer volui. In hoc unum eunt dies, in hoc noctes, hoc opus meum est, haec cogitatio: inponere veteribus malis finem. Id ago, ut mihi instar totius vitae dies sit. Nec mehercules tamquam ultimum rapio, sed sic illum aspicio, tamquam esse vel ultimus possit. Hoc animo tibi hanc epistulam scribo, tamquam me cum maxime scribentem mors evocatura sit. Paratus exire sum et ideo fruar vita, quia quam diu futurum hoc sit, non nimis pendeo.

Ante senectutem curavi, ut bene viverem, in senectute, ut bene moriar; bene autem mori est libenter mori. Da operam, ne quid umquam invitus facias. Quicquid necesse futurum est repugnanti, volenti necessitas non est. Ita dico: qui imperia libens excipit, partem acerbissimam servitutis effugit, facere quod nolit. Non qui iussus aliquid facit, miser est, set qui invitus facit. Itaque sic animum conponamus, ut quicquid res exiget, id velimus et in primis ut finem nostri sine tristitia cogitemus. Ante ad mortem quam ad vitam praeparandi sumus. Satis instructa vita est, sed nos in instrumenta eius avidi sumus; deesse aliquid nobis videtur et semper videbitur. Ut satis vixerimus, nec anni nec dies faciunt, sed animus. Vixi, Lucili carissime, quantum satis erat; mortem plenus exspecto. Vale.

black and white photograph of a skull

Leave a Reply