I just came upon this evocative sermon on death by John Henry Newman called “The Lapse of Time.”
Such is death considered in its inevitable necessity, and its unspeakable importance—nor can we ensure to ourselves any certain interval before its coming. The time may be long; but it may also be short. It is plain, a man may die any day; all we can say is, that it is unlikely that he will die. But of this, at least, we are certain, that, come it sooner or later, death is continually on the move towards us. We are ever nearer and nearer to it. Every morning we rise we are nearer that grave in which there is no work, nor device, than we were. We are now nearer the grave, than when we entered this Church. Thus life is ever crumbling away under us. What should we say to a man, who was placed on some precipitous ground, which was ever crumbling under his feet, and affording less and less secure footing, yet was careless about it? Or what should we say to one who suffered some precious liquor to run from its receptacle into the thoroughfare of men, without a thought to stop it? who carelessly looked on and saw the waste of it, becoming greater and greater every minute? But what treasure can equal time? It is the seed of eternity: yet we suffer ourselves to go on, year after year, hardly using it at all in God’s service, or thinking it enough to give Him at most a tithe or a seventh of it
It is rare to think with this level of attention about the brevity of life.
However, some people do.
A couple years ago, I went to meet someone at his office where I noticed a poster with many small dots on it in rows and columns.
When I asked this man about it, he explained that it is a sort of life calendar depicting how many weeks he has to live if he lives the average lifespan of someone in his demographic.
He showed me the point in the poster at which he is now and explained that having this reminder in his office of the shortness of life spurs him on to tackle his tasks with resolve, gratitude, urgency, and enthusiasm.
To me, this memento mori exemplified the conscientious of which Newman speaks.