Life ceases for the rest of us just when we are getting ready for it. It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short. ‘It is a small part of life we really live.’ Indeed, all the rest is not life but merely time. You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squandered it as though you had a full and overflowing supply. You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately. ‘Why do you linger?’ he means. ‘Why are you idle? If you don’t grasp it first, if flees.’ And even if you do grasp it, it will still flee. Drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow. Attack the passions by brute force and not by logic. Vices have to be crushed hater than picked at. In the present we have only one day at a time, each offering a minute at a time. But all the days of the past will come to your call: you can detain and inspect them at your will - something which the preoccupied have no time to do. So it does not matter how much time we are given if there is nowhere for it to settle; it escapes through the cracks and holes of the mind. The present time is extremely short, so much so that some people are unaware of it. In a word, would you like to know how they do not live long? See how keen they are to live long. Feeble old men pray for a few more years; they pretend they are younger than they are; they comfort themselves by this deception and fool themselves as eagerly as if they fooled Fate at the same time. But when at last some illness had reminded them of their mortality, how terrified do they die, as if they were not just passing out of life but being dragged out of it. They exclaim that they were fools because they have not really lived, and that if only they can recover from this illness they will live in leisure. Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs. All the years that have passed before them are added to their own. Some time has passed: he grasps it in his recollection. Time is present: he uses it. Time is to come: he anticipates it. This combination of all times into one gives him a long life. But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future. When they come to the end of it, the poor wretches realize too late that for all this time they have been preoccupied in doing nothing. Seneca “On the shortness of life”
Antonio Susini (1558–1624) Rape of a Sabine After Giambologna’s marble group of 1583 Bronze detail
Kathleen McCain Engman (Mom) for S Magazine.
Smiljan Radic - Renovation of the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Santiago 2013. Via, photos (C) Nico Saieh.
Narrative is our intuitive technology for making sense of change
“Nothing is forever, except change.”