Carpe Diem

There is nothing quite like a funeral to concentrate the mind; “carpe diem” seems such an apt phrase at such a time.

Translated as “seize the day”, the Latin original was taken from book 1 of the Roman poet Horace‘s work Odes.

Such meaning in three words.

And how similar we are to those ancients, despite two thousand years difference in time and an eternity in technology.

I am no believer in the wisdom of the ancients, let alone the apocryphal “noble savage” and yet in many deeply meaningful ways, we humans have been so consistent over time in both our strengths and our weaknesses.

Our weaknesses are all too evident and yet perhaps our strengths can be all too easily overlooked.

What would you call such a phrase?  More grandly perhaps you would say it is philosophy; at the very least the adjective “philosophical” seems to fit. For those who can only take philosophy seriously when it is written in the tortuous phrases and incomprehensible jargon of a Wittgenstein, then perhaps the phrase is mere folk wisdom, common sense.

But it is a phrase you should not pass over lightly. It expresses a sentiment which should be lived and breathed – while you do still live and breathe.

So, what should we do? How exactly should we “seize the day”?

Oh dear I’m afraid I’m going to go back to the simple message of Bishop Michael Curry again, so beautifully and perhaps more elegantly argued by the glamorous young female clergyman in today’s service.  Love – trying to treat people decently anyway.

I really don’t like the word “love” – it always makes me feel sheepish and embarrassed. Such an over-used word with such cloying (Uriah Heep!) overtones but one which in some contexts is nonetheless helpful.

Perhaps I am more comfortable with the word “awareness” and I suspect my friend who was buried today would have felt much the same.

To seize the day for me is to be fully alive to what happens each moment of each day. Not to be worrying about the future or regretting the past.

It is about seeing people and talking to them, helping when you can. About empathy and engagement. Not in any religious sense but in a very down to earth, basic practical sense.

My wife, my child – it is about being “with” them against that day when I will no longer be able to. And others of course but I am not a sociable individual; a few close friends and relatives makes up my world.

And art, beauty, knowledge, nature. All these things too must be seized. To read Horace’s Odes perhaps, to potter in a summer garden, to drink in a Rembrandt or even a cup of coffee. But to notice it, to be aware. To smell the coffee, to take it all very, very slowly. Not to hurry through it to get to tomorrow or next year.

These are the topics I would discuss with my friend. Our world views were quite similar but then I suppose we tend to be friends with those who think in similar ways.

But there must surely be a universality of feeling in the phrase “carpe diem”; it is hard to believe that quiet reflection does not lead most of us down similar paths.   Eventually.

Do not mourn the dead but be happy you knew them.

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