“Whatever you undertake, cast your eyes on death.” Seneca, Epistle 114.27
This past week, I suffered a sudden and unexpected loss.
I was meeting with a friend online, and we were making small talk and preparing to play video games together. We were reviewing our respective weeks, joking around, and settling on which video game to play, when my computer suddenly shut off. The screen went black, my friend’s voice was cut off, and my anticipation of an evening spent chatting and gaming came abruptly to nothing.
I’d been absorbed in our conversation, carefree and unconcerned about the state of my PC. That something like this might happen hadn’t even entered my mind. There was no indication of declining health–no ominous symptoms or warning signs. My machine was young and vigorous–a gaming laptop purchased just 2 years ago. There was no reason whatsoever to expect anything like this.
And yet here we are. An autopsy by my local computer repair guy revealed a fried motherboard which may or may not be fixable.
Time will tell.
In the meantime, I’ve been put in mind of death, and not just because I’m not sure how I’ll live without my weekly gaming session.
No, it’s because I’ve received a reminder, in the form of an electronic aneurysm, that death waits just around the corner.
Of course, we all know this on an intellectual level. I certainly try to remind myself of my approaching demise often enough, and to live my life accordingly.
But in spite of this, I frequently fall into the comfortable certainty that death will always lie somewhere over the horizon .
Death may be near at hand, I tell myself, but not that near. I’ll no doubt hear it approaching when it finally arrives, and will have ample time to steel myself against its impact. So I tell myself.
But the untimely demise of my laptop has reminded me just how wrong this perspective is.
It’s reminded me that death can come in a moment of complete unpreparedness. It might find me at ease and anticipating some enjoyment that lies just ahead. It might find me in the midst of that enjoyment.
It might also find me preoccupied with some trivial annoyance, or in the middle of some utterly banal or even shameful activity.
It might well come during a total lapse in self awareness, while I’m mired in a mindless sense of well-being that is so strong as to make me forget about mortality altogether.
No doubt there will be things left undone, conversations left unfinished, conflicts unresolved. It will not come at a “good” time, and will certainly require that I abandon countless plans, hopes, and dreams.
And what’s to be done about this? Not a thing, of course.
I’ll continue to try to live well. I’ll try to increase the number of moments that I wouldn’t mind being my last. I’ll do my best to keep death in mind, so as not to be caught off guard.
But in spite of all this, I may well meet death in one of those in-between moments of ease and ill-preparedness, just like my laptop did.
It’s not up to me after all.
I can only do my best to live well, and to do so as consistently as possible, before it all comes to nothing. While I’m at it, I should make sure to enjoy even the small talk and mere anticipation of things to come. Because it may well be in the midst of these that my motherboard melts and the lights go out.