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Memento Mori

Pablo Picasso, Goat’s Skull, Bottle and Candle, 1952

Memento mori: an artwork designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life.

"Plagues only seem interminable. Life remains short."

Not to wax too finely over the obvious, but The Damned Pandemic strikes me as an enormous Memento Mori. It hovers as an annoyingly continuous reminder of the proximity of morbidity, mortality, and tragedy. Threat hovering over an Eat, Drink, and Be Merry Culture so recently dedicated to ignoring these inescapable elements of existence. Excuse us, please, if we all of a sudden seem unusually pissy. I've noticed myself complaining more but curiously enjoying it much less. I never became an actual habitual complainer, thinking the practice generally unseemly, but I readily admit to finding some welcome solace in the practice, if only occasionally. My complaints seem to work like a capacitor, slowly building a charge before releasing it in a quick discharge, seemingly coming from absolutely nowhere. I'm a smoldering, slow-burn sort of guy, rarely belying my steady countenance until already over some edge. Curiously, I usually feel much better after an outburst, as if most of the cure for my complaint came from simply airing it. An ounce of finding somebody to whine to might be worth a pound of any other cure.

Now, we only have each other to whine to and we each suffer from precisely the same complaint.
There's no real release possible under this scenario. I need to feel especially put upon for my complaint to seem worthy. If it couldn't eventually qualify as an authentic Treated Uniquely Unfairly Grudge, it doesn't effectively nudge me over my edge, so I remain on edge rather than finding release falling over it. And we all seem to be in this same boat. I can aim my ire at the ignorant few who seem by their actions to encourage irresolution, thereby prolonging this torture, but I find little satisfaction in pointing fingers. Blaming seems a weak attempt to shunt off a personal complaint onto another. If that designated other demonstrates the indifference of a cud-chewing cow, how could that transference yield satisfaction?

None of us hold responsibility for the human condition. We mostly manage to successfully hold its more humbling ramifications at bay. We do not ordinarily start each day defensively acknowledging how we're destined to return to dust, even if we choose to recognize this reality each Ash Wednesday. We work perhaps hardest to focus upon the securely here and now where radical change seems unlikely if not impossible. We buy our insurance and hardly ever have to hope for the best, which in ordinary times just seems to quite naturally bless us. But headlines now blare, for there's no need to scare us into humble acceptance. Our comeuppance is just so there, staring us down. Another few hundred dead overnight. Tens of thousands newly verified as infected, maybe five percent of those imminently doomed. We can no longer find room for our accustomed passive denials. All actually seems vanity now, just like the Book of Ecclesiastes insisted. Not even eat and drink produces much merry.

The question always was: how might I go about living a satisfactory life in the continually creeping shadow of the end of it all? Memento Mori reminds us to light a candle and drink some wine. These acts might not make anything any finer, but they might muffle the inner whiner for a while. The candlelight so that we might see more clearly. The wine so that we might temporarily forget and revel in that sacred forgetfulness. We cannot forget to die so we must never forget to live. The darkness gives way to yet another dawn, and while we know for certain that the pestilence is far from gone this morning, possibility still preens for acknowledgement. We were always doomed. Each morning dreads the coming noon, which will absolutely arrive too soon, stealing at least half of that day's potential away. An afternoon thunderstorm might well wash away every regret as evening overtakes the proceedings, and the cycle seems permanently set to repeat itself again tomorrow. Plagues only seem interminable. Life remains short.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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