Memento Mori

At this time of the semester it is incredibly easy to feel pulled in a hundred different directions.

I didn’t want to come to Naples. I spent Friday night listing over again every assignment I have due in the next two weeks and planning courses for next semester in order to avoid packing. It had just begun to look like spring in Riva. Thursday was the first warm day in a long stretch of time and we spent all afternoon in the garden sketching or taking pictures and listening to the guitar. A group went across the street to play volleyball barefoot in the field next to the elementary school. I realized how few days we had left in the villa and how much I didn’t want to leave.

On the train, I spent six hours contemplating life after next year, and by the time we arrived at Napoli Centrale had tied myself into a Gordian Knot of excitement and apathy and uncertainty and the last thing I wanted was to spend another week in a strange city with a pile of work squashing me into the cobblestones.

But the sun in Naples is warmer even than Riva’s. The people are as free as those in Greece, but without the tangible desperation running through their exuberance. It was Palm Sunday today and it seemed as if the whole city carried olive branches—the Italian equivalent of folded palm crosses.

At the National Archaeological Museum this afternoon we saw a mosaic called Memento Mori.

“Memento mori.” Mosaic from Pompeii (House cum workshop I, 5, 2, triclinium). 30 B.C. — 14 A.D. Inv. No. 109982. Naples, National Archaeological Museum.

http://ancientrome.ru/art/artworken/img.htm?id=1755

One of the many artifacts recovered from Pompeii, it depicts an adage that translates as “Remember that you will die.” Our guide explained that the sentiment was not, as we might assume, morbid, but rather the opposite. It was a reminder to live every day as fully as possible because eventually there will come a time when life ends and your chance to experience it is gone forever.

I remembered earlier in the day when we navigated the narrow aqueducts under Naples by candlelight and came to stand in a flickering ring around the dark water of an underground cistern. I remembered Alex, our tour guide, and how he called our professor “Mr. Bob” and tried to teach us how to roll our r’s in Italian by making us repeat the word “trentuno” while waving his hat in the air. I remembered minutes ago, standing in the empty marble hall on the second floor of the museum and contemplating the golden line of astrology symbols embedded in the floor. I was grateful for the attention I had paid in those moments because they were images I wanted to keep with me to remember the city that is gradually exceeding my expectations.

Last week I sat in the patch of gravel under the persimmon tree and watched the shadows change under the villa’s windows. In five days, I will be on a train back to Riva to celebrate Easter in a town that is my home this semester. On June 4th, I will fly into Dulles International airport and return to the place that I left in January and find it or myself utterly and irrevocably changed. I have been informed by Paul Heilker that uncertainty breeds brilliance. I wonder if there is an actuated meter for uncertainty, and at what volume the system is overloaded. I think I’ll be running that trial this summer.

But right now, I am in a hotel in Naples. I am going to wake up tomorrow and order a coffee in Italian before setting off to climb on an active volcano. It will likely rain, as it does most times we attempt to visit outdoor locations in this program. I will likely have pizza for dinner, as it is cheap and good and close by.

There will always be the pressure of time and the centrifugal force of the universe, but right now is something what will never happen again. The best thing to do is to pay attention while it’s here.

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1 Response to Memento Mori

  1. Kim Carlson says:

    “It was a reminder to live every day as fully as possible because eventually there will come a time when life ends and your chance to experience it is gone forever.” Unfortunately too many people don’t do this… maybe we need more Memento Mori pieces in the U.S. to help remind us!

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