I know it may be an old pastime, but I still enjoy reading a newspaper. I always pay attention to the obituaries section, usually looking for names I know from my parents’ and grandparents’ age. Something struck me the other day, though. I read a name and looked at the age. I did not know the person, but she was my age (just under 40). The circumstances of her death are irrelevant. The reality of her death at such a young age is what stopped me. My first thought was, “But I have so much more life to live…”
The Stoics often discussed death in their writings. I’ve written about death on several occasions as I believe it is something we should all consider while living. Dealing with death adds importance to life, mainly that we squeeze every ounce out of it we can while we are here. After all, Seneca wrote in one of his letters, “it matters how well you live, not how long.”
Corey Anton, a professor and fellow media ecologist/general semanticist/Stoic, wrote, “Death is not simply a future event that will one day come to pass, as if our only possible relation to it is anticipation. Death is right here right now, life’s picture frame. Not knowing that you are going to die would be like being in a dream but remaining unable to realize that you’re dreaming. All living things die, but awareness of death is the pre-condition for life’s meaningfulness.” (Communication Uncovered).
Anton borrowed the idea of death being a picture frame for life from Gregory Bateson and his essay, “ A Theory of Play and Fantasy.” Bateson was an anthropologist, psychologist, sociologist, and a whole list of other things. He was acutely aware of how the human mind worked to make our lives tick. In his essay, Bateson suggested that we have psychological frames that help focus our attention on certain data.
He wrote, “The frame around a picture, if we consider this frame as a message intended to order or organize the perception of the viewer, says, ‘Attend to what is within and do not attend to what is outside.’”
Bearing our end in mind offers us a way to focus on the past: what we have done; the present: what we are currently doing; and the future: what we have yet to do. This kind of orientation offers a sense of urgency to life.