seneca and alan watts on dying and living

there is some tension between these three quotes below, but they’re related for me. the first two are from seneca’s letter to lucilius titled ‘on taking one’s own life.’. the last is a quote from a popular talk by alan watts on the acceptance of death and the meaning of life.

“An ordinary journey will be incomplete if you come to a stop in the middle of it, but life is never incomplete if it is an honourable one. At whatever point you leave life, if you leave it in the right way, it is a whole.” –– seneca, letter LXXVII

“Every life without exception is a short one… As it is with a play, so it is with life – what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is. It is not important at what point you stop. Stop wherever you will – only make sure that you round it off with a good ending.” –– seneca, letter LXXVII

“No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.” –– alan w. watts

as i sort of stew (in the best way) in my thinking about death this week, i keep coming back to an idea about living and dying. what keeps sticking is that we must be (culturally) afraid of dying because we haven’t figured out how to live.

seneca’s line about life being complete as long as it’s honorable definitely reminds me of how i think about living each day. the 2nd and 3rd quotes are, to me, similarly about the important of knowing how to live well.

there is a strange, but coherent irony in our fear of death as it manifests in our continued avoidance of the one question that would end that fear. how should one live?

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