So, you know about memento mori, right?
Skeleton clock: Contra Spem Spero… Et Rideo
Ring collection: Antique Jewelry University
Memento Mori ring: Jamestown Rediscovery
Skeleton in Coffin: I’m not a Person In this Dream
Historically, especially in the past 500 years, memento mori have been used in design, jewelry, and art to remind the viewer that they too shall die (hence, the skeleton, most always lurking). In ancient Rome, and in a religious usage, it can be a sobering reminder to keep the person grounded to their imperfection and mortality. In a more positive light, it dovetails nicely with the Carpe Diem philosophy as well–do it now, because tomorrow is not guaranteed. In the alternative death circles, memento mori (the items and the general motif) are very popular as jewelry, art, clothing, and even tattoos.
I’m very very in favor of the purpose behind memento mori, but skeletons really aren’t my thing–I totally wouldn’t decorate with them or wear them, no matter how profound the statement that they bear. Th reminder, though, is wholly necessary and good, and something I try to find in my daily skeleton-free world–but how to remind myself of it?
Recently, as I was stopping for milk at Costco, I realized that I do have my own version of memento mori/carpe diem going on, seasonally:
Little girls’ fancy dresses.
Specifically the gorgeous and super-reasonable Christmas and Easter dresses that show up at Costco in the months before those holidays.
When my now nearly-adult daughter was that age, I was a bit too frugal, too quick to dismiss frivolity and wants with a brusque “but we don’t need it”. So much–pretty dresses, travel, events, fun–was put off for another day, admired and desired but not fulfilled, not worth the money it took to achieve, just a waste.
But now: now I see that I only had so many years to indulge both of us with these tokens, to appreciate texture and sparkle, and to enjoy an unnecessary, impractical treat every so often. Death has not come, for me and my girl and my love of pretty girls’ dresses, but time has. And with time, growth that takes away the opportunity to need these dresses. My child is still here, but that child who could wear the dress? Gone for good, just as if she had died.
The dresses still come around, like clockwork, every October and February. And I draw breath in the first time I see them, take the time to examine them all, touch the flowers and lace and net, pick my favorites. Somewhat sadly now, though, because I’m smarter. I know enough to know I should have been more indulging, less harsh, more willing to live in the moment and enjoy the day.
I know which ones my grandbabies would be wearing, if I were buying now–and you’d better believe I will, if there are ever grandgirls!
My time for dresses is over. All I can do is wish I had chosen differently, wish I’d understood that time will take things from you, just as death does. And be that middle-aged woman who gives unsolicited advice about “enjoy it while you can” to random mamas in Costco (specifically, “Buy the dress. Enjoy every year you get to do so!”)
Memento mori: Remember, you must die.
Make each day count. Drink the good wine.
Be the difference where you are, today. Say the important things.
Spend the money, make the memories, buy the dress.
Tomorrow is not guaranteed.
Remember, you must die.