Memento Mori

I have a skull in my office. And people occasionally ask me why. It strikes some people as an odd sort of thing to have around.

As I've written about this before, I keep a skull in my office as a memento mori.

Memento mori is Latin for "Remember you are mortal" or "Remember you will die." Memento mori refers to an art form where reminders of death were painted or included in a painting. The classic example is a still life of a skull:

Sometimes a hourglass is added to symbolize the sands of time:

Occasionally, more subtle details are added, like bubbles:

The bubbles remind me of these biblical passages:

James 4.14b
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Psalm 78.39
[Yahweh] remembered that they were but flesh,
a passing breeze that does not return.

Psalm 39.4-6
“Show me, LORD, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be."
I keep a skull around to remind me of texts like these. The skull is a memento mori.

In the middle of a work day I look at the skull and think: Remember the truth about all this stuff around you, all this stuff that is stressing you and everyone else out--all this striving, pushing, competing, assessing, goal-setting, excelling, climbing, and performing.

It's all just mist, a breath. Chasing the wind. Vanity of vanities.

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