Rhonda Cagle

Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Ink It

In Uncategorized on June 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Some people fantasize about being rich or thin or powerful. They envision themselves effortlessly entertaining like Martha Stewart or chatting up David Letterman while they promote their latest movie or best selling novel. My fantasy is, well… uh, a bit more eccentric.

For several years now, I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a tattoo. Toyed is the operative word here. I hate pain and am phobic about needles, so thinking about the actual act of getting the tattoo raises my heart rate and makes me break out in a sweat. Hence, this remains a fantasy and not a reality. But still, I dream of ink. Not something cheesy like a rose on my shoulder, mind you, where it’s visible and tacky when wearing a cocktail dress. Not that I wear a cocktail dress all that often. But I digress. My desire to get inked has nothing to do with displaying it for others to see. The tattoo I fantasize about is solely for me.

Momento Mori is the Latin phrase I dream of inscribing on my lower back. Roughly translated, it means, “remember thy death.” I realize inking my back with the admonition to think about death makes me odd in the eyes of my peers. But it’s my body and my fantasy and I believe it’s important to contemplate such things in order to figure out why and how we live. Previous generations thought so, too.

In the days of Roman conquerors, triumphant generals would return from war to the accolades of adoring citizens. But walking immediately behind the conquering hero was a slave whose sole job was to call out to the mighty warrior, reminding him that he would one day die. The call of death served as a reality check for how the warrior lived in that moment, that day.

Momento Mori also echoes in the voice of ancient Christendom. The devout, facing the choice between recanting faith or martyrdom, embraced faith by also embracing death. Remembering the day of death formed the basis of how they lived – even if it was only for another few hours or days. Centuries later, I thought of these ancient saints as I listened to a bishop tell stories of his friends and brothers who were recently martyred in Africa. Faced with firing squads, they were not without fear. The bishop recalled many of them crying and soiling themselves even as they walked toward the soldiers firing at them. But in the face of death, life – its essence and importance – was more clearly seen, felt, grasped, even as earthly hands were stilled.

Our modern western world does everything possible to avoid thinking of death. Desperate for eternal youth, we tuck our tummies, lift our faces, liposuction our backsides, and plump our lips – all for that “naturally effortless” glow of youthful beauty. Meanwhile, our souls shrivel for lack of substance… meaning… purpose.

But regardless of our efforts to avoid and sanitize death, it comes. For my husband, it was at the young age of 56; for my mother-in-law, it was at the ripe old age of 88. Shocking or expected, prepared or not, death is certain. Those left behind examine the footprints left by those who have gone before. Somehow, the shadow of death makes the imprint of their steps more vivid, leaving a clear path in which people like me can follow. Their lives – their breathing, walking, and doing – were filled with purpose. Embracing death’s certainty means living more fully – as if every day is the last.

Momento Mori. Someday death will come for me, too. I think of this even as I walk toward tomorrow. By the grace of God, remembering the day of my death will bring life to today. That’s a concept worthy of being indelible – on my body and soul.

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