Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B8:36-37

Do not let the panorama of your life oppress you, do not dwell on all the various troubles which may have occurred in the past or may occur in the future. Just ask yourself in each instance of the present: 'What is there in this work which I cannot endure or support?' You will be ashamed to make any such confession. Then remind yourself that it is neither the future nor the past which weighs on you, but always the present: and the present burden reduces, if only you can isolate it and accuse your mind of weakness if it cannot hold against something thus stripped bare.

Is Panthea or Pergamus still sitting by the coffin of Verus? Or Chabrias or Diotimus by Hadrian's? Ridiculous! And if they were still sitting there, would the dead be aware? And if they were aware, would they be pleased? And if they were pleased, would that make their mourners immortal? Was it not their fate also first to grow old - old women and old men like any others - and then to die? And with them dead, what would those they mourned do then? It is all stench and corruption in a bag of bones.

The White Stripes have this really neat song called Little Acorns.  The first minute of the song is a narrator, who sounds like a 1950's Leave It to Beaver instructional video voice, talking about a woman who faces mounting life problems.  At her lowest point, she noticed a squirrel storing nuts for the winter one at a time.  This helps her see that she too can face her problems one at a time.  It is quite a Stoic concept; you can't control the past or future; you only have the present; and when you break down your present concerns (one by one) and tackle them (one by one), you are simply performing your duty as a human being.  All else is needless anxiety.

Again - more reminders of death.  This time, Marcus paints an unusual picture of mourners sitting by the grave of loved ones who have died.  He asks if by them sitting there, if the dead are aware and if so, would that make the dead happy?  And if so, does that make anyone immortal?  Indeed, it seems heartless and cold, this line of thinking.  But let's suppose that the dead (perhaps in spirit form) do see us sitting by their grave mourning their loss.  Does that mean the dead sit by their burial spot all the time?  Are they confined there?  If so, that must be hell for them.  And if they are there and can hear us speak and mourn for them, what is the purpose?  Does this make the dead happy?  How would we know?  The more I think about it all, the more I realize all this is speculation.  No one knows what really happens after death.  And if we did, what difference would it really make?  Recall the logic of Gods or Atoms; the end result is the same: we must live each day and each moment the best we can.  We must love and help others.  We must live, striving for virtue.

Leave the dead where they lay and preserve their memory in your mind and live your life to the fullest.  Another great philosopher said, "let the dead bury the dead."  And similarly, I've always loved the point Gandalf made in The Return of the King (movie) when he explained to Pippen why Gondor was not as great as it used to be.
The old wisdom that was borne out of the West was forsaken. Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living and counted the names of their descent dearer than the names of their sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry or in high, cold towers asking questions of the stars. And so the people of Gondor fell into ruin. The line of Kings failed, the White Tree withered, and the rule of Gondor was given over to lesser men.
We, who live now, must live.  We do not attain more virtue by worrying about the dead.  If the dead were alive, they would act like us who are alive; and they would tell us to live each day and count it precious.  This is what Marcus means when he says, there's no glory in constant mourning of the dead as "it is all stench and corruptions in a bag of bones."  This is what Jesus means when he said, "let the dead bury the dead."

(see also Citadel p. 30, 48, 132, 196, 206, 270, 276-277)

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