Not Fearing to Die with a Little Help from Your Friends

Seneca, Moral Epistles 78.1-5

“It troubles me that you are suffering from sinus infections and fevers which turn into a series of seizures–more so because I know something of this kind of sickness and I minimized it at the beginning. Youth made it possible for me to endure the symptoms to a point and to act bravely towards the disease. But I eventually succumbed and got so sick that I could only cough, stretched as thin as possible.

I frequently planned to end my life, but my most loving father’s old age held me back. I was thinking not about how bravely I was able to face death, but how incapable he was of bravely facing my loss. Sometimes just living is the truly brave deed.

I’ll tell you what brought me comfort in then, if I can say first that these things I used to quiet my mind were as good as medicine. True comfort turns into a cure and whatever strengthens the spirit helps the body too. My studies saved me. I credit philosophy that I got better and became strong again. I owe my life to philosophy and nothing less.

My friends returned me to good health too–I was raised up by their encouragement, long watches over me, and conversation. Lucilius, best of men, nothing heals the sick like the affection of friends; nothing else so undermines anxiety and fear about death. Indeed, I used to believe that I would not die since I would leave them to survive me. I used to believe, I mean, that would continue on not with them, but through them. I figured I wasn’t giving up my soul, but merely handing it over.”

Vexari te destillationibus crebris ac febriculis, quae longas destillationes et in consuetudinem adductas secuntur, eo molestius mihi est, quia expertus sum hoc genus valetudinis, quod inter initia contempsi; poterat adhuc adulescentia iniurias ferre et se adversus morbos contumaciter gerere. Deinde succubui et eo perductus sum, ut ipse destillarem ad summam maciem deductus. Saepe impetum cepi abrumpendae vitae; patris me indulgentissimi senectus retinuit. Cogitavi enim non quam fortiter ego mori possem, sed quam ille fortiter desiderare non posset. Itaque imperavi mihi, ut viverem. Aliquando enim et vivere fortiter facere est.

Quae mihi tunc fuerint solacio dicam, si prius hoc dixero, haec ipsa, quibus adquiescebam, medicinae vim habuisse. In remedium cedunt honesta solacia, et quicquid animum erexit, etiam corpori prodest. Studia mihi nostra saluti fuerunt. Philosophiae acceptum fero, quod surrexi, quod convalui. Illi vitam debeo et nihil illi minus debeo. Multum mihi contulerunt ad bonam valetudinem amici, quorum adhortationibus, vigiliis, sermonibus adlevabar. Nihil aeque, Lucili, virorum optime, aegrum reficit atque adiuvat quam amicorum adfectus; nihil aeque expectationem mortis ac metum subripit. Non iudicabam me, cum illos superstites relinquerem, mori. Putabam, inquam, me victurum non cum illis, sed per illos. Non effundere mihi spiritum videbar, sed tradere.

Final dinner scene from "Don't Look Up": A group of family and friends toast around a dinner table as the world is about to end

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