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Memento mori

The Latin phrase “memento mori” means “Remember that you must die.” The phrase has its origins in ancient Rome, where it is believed that slaves accompanying generals on victory parades whispered the words as a reminder of their commander’s mortality, to prevent them from being consumed by hubris (excessive pride and self-confidence).

I once watched a series on Netflix called “Altered Carbon.” In that futuristic sci-fi world, humans had hard drives attached at the base of their brain, so that in case their current body dies from disease or accident, they could easily boot up their consciousness to another body. It’s basically a flash drive containing your entire personality.

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This technology allowed people, particularly those who are wealthy and with means, to keep on changing their bodies and live for hundreds of years, basically becoming immortal in the process.

Sounds good, right? Humans have solved the problem of mortality. The proverbial fountain of life is in technology all along.

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Well, the show didn’t think of it that way, because as it turns out, our mortality is an integral part of our humanity.

As the ancient Romans found out thousands of years ago, humans are prone to pride and hubris, and the only thing keeping the pride of people at bay is the thought that one day they would die. In the world of “Altered Carbon,” humans consumed by hubris no longer valued their lives. They made decisions recklessly, knowing that they could have everything replaced.

“Memento mori,” a reminder of mortality: At first, I thought, what a somber and melancholic quote. Why would I even want to think about this, yet alone meditate upon it or consider it in my everyday life. However, living in a historic event such as this pandemic has forced this thought on me, since everywhere we look, we are reminded of the fragility of human existence. We see it in the news, in our social media feeds, and for some of us, it hits close to home.

Living through such a historic event, I am reminded of an ancient Chinese curse that one says to his enemy: “I hope that you live through interesting times.” Now that we are living through truly interesting times, I can fully appreciate the thought behind it.

In the past few months, I could not help but feel a sense of sadness or melancholy for people who were taken ahead of their time. People who could have gone on to fulfill their dreams, people who could have continued on to their retirement, people no longer able to meet their future families and grandchildren.

It was during these moments of sadness that I realized that “memento mori” is not such a bad reminder after all. In confronting death, we learn to celebrate life. Acknowledging the reality of death makes us cherish life even more. The bitter days make the sweet ones even sweeter. We learn to value each and every moment, not knowing if something will be repeated or if we will ever have the chance to do it again.

It’s a sobering reminder to take life one day at a time. Cherish the little things. Learn from our failures, don’t take them lightly, but know as well that they do not define us. Celebrate our success, but don’t rest on our laurels, for the beauty of life is that there will always be new challenges to face, new mountains to climb, and new worlds to conquer.

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Although we should not strive for actual immortality, there is a way for us to achieve immortality in a symbolic way, and that is through our actions and how we are remembered for what we did in our lives. In the film “Gladiator,” Maximus said, “What you do in life echoes through eternity.” Great warriors and generals like Leonidas and Achilles asked their men, “Do you want to live forever?” And indeed their names are still being spoken of thousands of years after their death.

So in everything that I do, I remember that I am finite, I am limited. But I also remember that all my actions have repercussions, and hopefully they will be remembered gratefully and viewed positively by the people who will live after my time.

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Salvador S. Fulgencio III, 27, obtained his Juris Doctor degree in 2019 from the San Beda College of Law Manila. He failed the 2019 Bar exams and is about to take it again soon, after resigning from his work in a law firm.

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TAGS: death, iimmortality, memento mori, Salvador S. Fulgencio III, Young Blood
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