Memento Mori

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Erik Antony Marks 

The Library was not the place I expected to be reminded of the certainty of my death. Yet, greeting me as I entered this wondrous place was an 8.5” x 11” notice for a public conversation about death. At the top of the page were the Skull and Crossbones with the phrase surrounding them. And why not? Stacks and stacks of truths, what a great place to discuss our musings about one of the book-ends of our existence. The Latin Phrase is a helpful refrain if we contemplate it regularly: Remember you are going to die so that you may choose to be fully present and live consciously while alive—take stock, and make the most, of life.

In Tibetan Buddhism, training in the four preliminaries are the basis for all that follows in working with the mind:

1. Remember your precious human life and the good fortune of your human birth which provides ability to come in contact with and take in truth
2. The reality of the certainty of death that can come at any moment
3. Being stuck in Karma: that no matter what you do, good or ill, furthers your entrapment in the cycle
4. The inevitability and severity of suffering for all sentient beings.
When I think of Memento Mori, I am drawn back to these preliminaries. The following day another Memento Mori message arrived again, prompting me to write this. I met with a man who recently lost a dear family member to protracted illness. He said, “Is it strange to say I feel like thought of his death is a gift? I’m sad he’s gone. I feel like the hurt reminds me to live my life.” It made me think of a colleague and former group consultant who said “loss is the gift that keeps on giving.” The words stung at first. It seemed antithetical in that moment to place the two ideas of “loss” and “gift” together. As the concept worked in me over time, I began to realize how much of my adaptations to life were from finding the “silver linings” in the losses I had accumulated. This message is clearly present in every step of our Masonic journey: In the regularity of day and night. In the stages of life and degrees, especially the Third. For me, the message echoes through our mythos and allegories to break off the superfluous in our day to day and bring into brilliant relief that which is most important to each of us.

Hasten not the day of your demise
Nor shun it like an evil specter.
Honor its effort to ring in the reality
That your life’s abode is this moment:
Memento Mori.


Brother Erik Marks is a clinical social worker whose usual vocation has been in the field of human services in a wide range of settings since 1990. He was raised in 2017 by his biologically younger Brother and then Worshipful Master in Alpha Lodge in Framingham, MA. You may contact brother Marks by email:

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