What is your Memento Mori? It need not be a skull. Mine is a red bus.
The act of placing a skull on your desk is known as keeping a "Memento Mori" to inspire thoughts of your death. A time-honored practice indeed, some of the big saints such as St Jerome and St Teresa of Avila set a skull before their eyes as a memo of mortality. Perhaps their stainless souls owed a debt to keeping a skull in their sights, shocking their senses into submission to God.
There is a revival of interest in having a skull as a "Memento Mori." This is quite fascinating considering the absolute flight from the idea of death and aging present in modern culture. There is a poll running to discover how many people know the meaning of "Memento Mori". Sr Theresa Noble was on The Jennifer Fulwiler Show to discuss why she is keeping a skull close at hand.
Day 107 w 💀 on my desk:— Sr. Theresa Aletheia (@pursuedbytruth) November 9, 2017
Die to sin, find life. #mementomori
I thought about getting a skull, but my reaction was one of tough indifference. I might be unfeeling and apathetic but a skull would not prompt in me the awareness that one day my life will end and my soul will sunder from my flesh, my soul will fly to God to be saved or damned. I'm careful not to give into my vanity and get one, for me t'would be more of a prop designed to impress people of personal holiness; something that would get me a lot of raised eyebrows from the girls I live with here in West London.
Plus, it's probably a little harder to come by a real human skull in 2017 London than it was for St Jerome, who had access to thousands of them in the catacombs he was fond of frequenting. I'm not sure a plastic one from a Halloween Shop would have quite the right kind of solemnising effect on me. (If anyone has a real one handy, I might at least consider it....)
So, am I never to have a "Momento Mori," I asked myself?
Then I remembered I already have one - a red bus.
It came to mind when my dear friend Sonia and I were on a skite around London and we were both being extremely cautious crossing the roads (eyes peeled back) and we compared notes about how we were both nearly killed in road accidents...
The very thing that acts as a Momento Mori for me is a red bus which reminds me instantly of a serious accident I was in - where had a miracle not occurred - I would have lost my life. One Irish summer's day when the sun sulked behind ash-like clouds, I was a teenager on my holidays milling around Cork City. I had just gotten off a red bus, only to walk behind the bright red back of the bus, into the parallel lane of oncoming traffic where I was struck by a truck. The impact was so great for a mere few seconds I felt my brain bounce violently around my skull like a ball, before feeling my skull was broken, my body was hit and thrown to the ground where I was unconscious, slipping briefly into consciousness, becoming aware I was in harrowing pain as though my bones had shattered. The type of pain where you *know* the end is nigh.
Then in an instant I was lifted up and absorbed in a great white space, a delicious peace came over me. I could see all around me, every part of the white space at once, because I was not seeing with eyes. My soul thought, "this must be death." To which an answer came, "no, this is not your death, your time has not come. I am sending you back to the world 'til I call you to Me."
Again in an instant I was lifted back to earth; a joy possessed me and as I came to consciousness, hearing the voices of on-lookers whisper, "she must be dead" and "if she is alive she'll be paralysed for life". One woman was hysterical, she thought I had tried to commit suicide when what had happened to me was an accident. "She looks at rest, but if she lives she'll have very painful injuries," said one.
And yet the crushing pain had completely left me, and I felt not a twinge but a peace of such sweetness as I lay in the grime and grit of the ground, the wheels of all the other cars in traffic surrounding my head. A happier experience I had not had.
The paramedics came and on finding I was still alive, they were like children on Christmas day, "The fellow who rang us told us you were dead!" A smiled played on my lips and I was in an ecstasy that surpassed all understanding. At the hospital the doctors had such solemn faces on when they began to examine me but their sorrow turned to jubilation and they whooped with laughter when they found I had not sustained one injury, but I felt better than I ever remembered feeling, as though I had been totally renewed.
People assumed I was badly bruised, and at the time I agreed because to say I had no bruises at all made it sound too spectacular. But I had not one scratch, not one bruise. Now that I've grown to maturity - I can see that the harrowing pain I felt at the impact - and then the pain totally disappearing in the flick of an eye is the sign for me it was miraculous.
I may have been a young teenager but until being struck by the truck I would best be described as completely faithless; wanting total estrangement from the mere idea of God.
I was a vegetarian, heavily into animal welfare and I had adored and even worshiped atheist song-writers and pop-stars who adored animals and thought they had a higher status than humans. And I had thought death was surely a great nothingness, like a heavy sleep while the body dissolved in brown earth like a tooth rotting in a glass of coca-cola. Yet, I resisted the allure of atheism not wanting to commit to it, pledging no belief in God was still defining a relationship with God, even if it was a non-relationship. During times of great suffering in childhood I had cried out to God and prayed, but had never, never felt a smidgen of consolation, not one answered prayer, only a great black nothingness. Atheism appealed because it helped me evade the pain of feeling unloved by telling myself there was no One to give such love, so to seek such love was an impossible dream. And at that time in modern Ireland the "cool" people and the "smart" ones were the ones who scorned belief in God. As I have written elsewhere I was being bullied and didn't want to embrace belief in God and have one more thing that made me subject to being called "backward."
Thanks to the bracing encounter with the truck and the mysterious protection from its force, I had been raised from total darkness of purgation to the bright light of illumination. I had been saved from death - because the Author of Life had a different plan other than the grave for me at the age of 15 - and I knew He had power over life and death. It just wasn't possible for me not to believe in God anymore.
My Memento Mori is a red bus because it is the last thing I saw before being struck by the truck. Everyone's death will be unique to them, so is it perhaps fitting that their Momento Mori ought be individualised? Here's my question for you: what is your Memento Mori? What is it that instantly calls to your mind your death? If you suffer from a life-threatening allergy to peanuts, might the humble peanut be your Memento Mori? If you're a recovering alcoholic might it be whisky? If you've had an illness or condition that nearly claimed your life, would it be hospital needles? If you nearly drowned at sea, might it be a picture of the ocean? If you would like to take part, please use the hash-tag #MyMementoMori
I am filing this piece under Mary O'Regan Soul Story, which will be the tag for posts of this personal nature.