On holiday I read the superb ‘Consolations of Philosophy’ by my hugely-admired sage of philosophy and life, Alain de Botton. In it he educates us as to how seminal philosophers’ outlooks on life can help us navigate the choppy waters of our hearts and minds. And this is how I met Seneca. This is a man who, in Alain’s words, ‘conceived of philosophy as a discipline to assist human beings in overcoming conflicts between their wishes and reality.‘ While that may not sound like much, to me, it was affirming and inspiring to stumble upon such an approach. When aged 22, with a few thousand pounds of inheritance, I wrote a will a close friend declared that I was ‘morbid‘. To me, I was ‘prepared‘. And this is where Seneca and I concur.
As Seneca so beautifully espoused: ‘Mortal have you been born, to mortals have you given birth. Reckon on everything, expect anything.’ Basically, SHIT HAPPENS-you aren’t exempt.
I try to live by this… We have few rules in our home, but one sacred rule is this: every time one is leaving the house, even just to the garage, the departing spouse *has* to kiss the other goodbye. (In seven years there is one occasion in which David went to the garage without said goodbye kiss…& returned home to a banshee. And another occasion when I was so blindingly mad at him I made a protest trip to the shop-which is 50metres from our home-without the obligatory kiss so he would *know* shizzle was serious!) Because, you see, people do just ‘pop to the shop’ at the end of the road and get knocked over by cars ALL THE TIME! And while I don’t want that to happen to my husband or I, except for enacting good Highway Code road safety, I am powerless to stop such an event befalling us. But I can ensure that we have kissed before that Ford Fiesta hits!
Now, you may imagine me an anxiety-ridden woman with bitten nails and greyed hair (well the hair is greying but that’s thanks to my handsome father’s annoying early white-hair genes!). Not so. I am, instead, simply aware that at ANY stupid minute a well-liked, bright, kind 14 year old pupil can die of an allergic reaction at the start of her summer holiday; a seemingly untroubled, jovial middle-aged family man can commit suicide in the family car; an old man can die peacefully but alone in his favourite chair while his family laugh and joke in the kitchen downstairs; or a middle-aged mother find a lump that turns out to be cancer. Essentially, I am aware-as we all are-that SHIT HAPPENS. But while most of us hide that knowledge in a shadowy, dust-covered long-term storage box in our mind, I keep I just knowledge laid out at the front. Essentially making me the emotional equivalent of a Girl-Scout: BE PREPARED!
And so, at 35 I have planned my funeral (I love planning parties so am damned if I’m going to miss planning my own Bon Voyage!), and really must get around to doing a new will. I kiss my husband goodbye before popping outside. And I frequently imagine getting random calls about loved ones dying. But this actually doesn’t make me morbid or in ANY way curtail my life. Oh no. You’ll be hard pressed to find many who take more joy from simply existing than me. BUT, as Seneca observed, we are disappointed & aggrieved when life does not match our wrongly built up expectations of health, longevity & ‘fairness’ (I’ll be addressing that myth in another blog!). So I proclaim: SHIT HAPPENS. All The Time. And it will happen to you. So kiss, and hug, and have integrity, and find joy in today, and be good-humoured, and honourable and truthful and kind.
Because as Seneca so poignantly pronounced: ‘No promise has been given you for this night-no, I have suggested too long a respite-no promise has even been given for this hour.’