Essays About

Memento Mori

   ...every mother's son
Travails with a skeleton.
-A.E. Housman

Poets, painters, and philosophers of the Renaissance used to set skulls on their desk to remind them of their mortality. I have no idea where to buy a skull nowadays, but sometimes while propping my cheek against my hand in thought, I become aware that I am touching the contours of my own skull. I run a finger around my eye sockets, feel the hinge of my jaw, and picture myself as I will one day look, minus everything soft—a bald globe of calcium. The only shared feature of that face and my present one are my teeth—the one place where my skeleton already pokes through my skin.

We are the clothing of our skeletons, but since our skeletons never undress until the prom of life ends, we forget what we look like beneath this tuxedo of flesh. The evolution of the endoskeleton was a key contributor to the denial of death. How could we forget our mortality if, like molting cicadas, we wore our skeletons outside and periodically had to crawl from a now lifeless replica of ourselves?

Instead, self-knowledge depends on imagination. Some lustful teenage boys mentally undress attractive women to see them naked. We should go further and mentally strip them of their skin to see the ribs and femurs that keep their beauty upright. When we shake hands with businessmen, we should squeeze hard enough to feel their metacarpals, which will stock next century's graveyards.