Many people have seen my skull ring and been curious about what it is and why I wear it. Of those people, some have expressed their distaste for it…sorry, mom, but I like it. Allow me to explain what it symbolizes and why I’ve chosen to keep it on me. The skull is a memento mori, a thing that reminds me of death. You might be asking yourself “What’s this nice boy doing thinking about something so grim?”
In the Rule of St. Benedict, monks are called to keep death always before them. The instruction is meant to call into remembrance their mortality and therefore remind them daily of the one reason to live. Like contrasting colors in a painting, life becomes more vibrant and full in light of death. I am reminded of why I live every time I put the ring on, yet I am constantly learning how to live life more fully. In a way, I’ve become obsessed with living.
I’ve started asking myself what would happen if I died today. Who would I have wanted to thank? Would I have given more money to the homeless guy? Who would I have told that I loved them? Would I have made certain jokes or comments about a certain person? Would I have saved more money rather than take a trip to another country? These questions have led to another adventure and several interesting conversations. I was able to see how the Lord works amongst people in going to new places and talking with people they don’t normally talk to.
Those abstract thoughts capture my whereabouts this January and my inward, thought-filled journey through the U.S. and U.K. I spent a few days in Columbia, SC, over the New Year connecting with friends. I visited other friends in Greenville and Hartsville, SC, and Fayetteville, NC. It was a really sweet time being with them again. Many of them have gotten pregnant or have just recently given birth to little ones. It is a joy to see these families grow and it is an honor to be a part of their lives. The memento mori, I think, helps me to see with open eyes that which is in front of me rather than live in the past or look to the future.
After visiting several friends I headed off to England for two weeks. I visited London for two days, Cambridge for two and a half, Oxford for five, and finally Windsor for one. I met a lot of locals and other travelers on the way. It was a time of reflection and rest. In that time I learned a lot about myself and got the pleasure at laughing at the silly things I worry about. At one point I was worried about spending too much money on food or lodging. Not that I was living lavishly in the first place. I stopped for a moment and thought about the immeasurable benefit of spending money to meet people with a different point of view, to walk in other people’s shoes, and buying a few pints of beer for a table of friends in a little eighteenth century pub at the heart of Oxford. The stories and laughs shared outweigh a few extra dollars saved in my bank account. I know that I live responsibly with what I have and even that enjoying my vacation is in fact living responsibly. You might say that I got a fresh dose of living in light of death, because what if I passed away? Would be it better for my money to be safe in the bank or invested in a time of joy with strangers and friends alike?
I visited a lot of different churches and pubs in England. The most striking thing was the history of (dead) people that have gone through both. I worshiped in the chapel where E.B. Pusey, a famous individual from the Oxford Movement is buried. I also drank a few pints in the Eagle and Child, the pub where the Inklings met and talked. It was neat to be in the same space as the people I look up to and consider the legacy they left behind. I wonder if they had the same fears and worries that I do? I wonder if they too had a drunken lady come up to them to say that ring they wore was a bit creepy.