I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Most of his children died in infancy. About this he said: “One man prays: ‘How I may not lose my little child,’ but you must pray: ‘How I may not be afraid to lose him.’” Here are The Meditations Book Five, Part Twenty-Seven through Book Six, Part Seven.
Live with the gods. He lives with the gods who constantly shows to the gods that his own soul is satisfied with that which is assigned to him, and that it does all that the daemon wishes, which Zeus has given to every man for his guardian and guide: a portion of Zeus Himself. This daemon is every man’s understanding and reason.
Are you angry with him whose armpits stink? Are you angry with him whose mouth smells foul? What good will this anger do you? He has such a mouth, he has such armpits. It is necessary that such an emanation must come from such things. But the man also has reason, it will be said, and he is able (if he tries) to discover wherein he offends. I wish you well in your discovery. Well then. You, too, have reason. With your rational faculty stir up his rational faculty. Show him his error, admonish him. For if he listens, you will cure him, and there is no need for anger.
As you intend to live when you are gone out, so it is in your power to live here. If men do not permit you to live as you intend, then get away out of life, as if they were suffering no harm. When the house is full of smoke, I go out of it. Why do you think that this is any trouble? But – so long as nothing of the kind drives me out, I remain, I am free, and no man will hinder me from doing what I choose. I choose to do what is according to the nature of the rational and social animal.
The intelligence of the universe is social. Accordingly, it has made the inferior things for the sake of the superior, and it has fitted the superior to one another. You see how it has subordinated, coordinated, and assigned to everything its proper portion, and has brought together into concord with one another the things which are the best.
How have you behaved so far toward the gods, your parents, your brethren, your children, your teachers, to those who looked after your infancy, to your friends, your kinsfolk, to your slaves? Consider if you have so far behaved to all in such a way that it may be said that you never have wronged a man in deed or word.
Remember both how many things you have passed through, and how many things you have been able to endure, and that the history of your life is now complete, and your service is ended. Remember how many beautiful things you have seen, and how many pleasures and pains you have despised, and how many honorable things you have spurned and to how many confused people you have shown a kind disposition.
Why do unskilled and ignorant souls disturb him who has skill and knowledge? What soul then has skill and knowledge? That which knows beginning and end, and knows the reason which pervades all substance and all time, who by fixed periods administers the universe.
Soon, very soon, you will be ashes, or a skeleton, and either a name or not even a name. A name is a sound and an echo. The things which are much valued in life are empty and rotten and trifling, like little dogs biting one another, like little children quarreling, then laughing, and then weeping. But fidelity and modesty and justice and truth are found up on Olympus from the wide-spread earth.
What then is there which still detains you here, if the objects of sense are easily changed and never stand still, and the organs of perception are dull and easily receive false impressions, and the poor soul itself is an exhalation from blood? To have good repute amid such a world as this is an empty thing. Why then do you not wait in tranquillity for your end, whether it is extinction or removal to another state? Until that time comes, remember what is sufficient. Why, what is sufficient is nothing else than to venerate the gods and bless them, and to do good to men, and to practice tolerance and self-restraint. As to everything which is beyond the limits of the poor flesh and breath, remember that this is neither yours nor in your power.
You cannot pass your life in an equable flow of happiness if you cannot go by the right way, and think in the right way, and act in the right way. There are two things common both to the soul of God, and to the soul of man, and to the soul of every rational being. First, not to be hindered by another. And second, to hold that the good consists in the disposition of justice and the practice of justice. In these two let your desire find its termination.
If this is neither my own badness, nor an effect of my own badness, and the common welfare is not injured, why am I troubled about it, and what is the harm to the common welfare?
Do not be carried along inconsiderately by the appearance of things, but give help to all according to your ability and their fitness. If they should have sustained loss in matters which are indifferent, do not imagine this to be a damage, for it is a bad habit. But just as if an old man, when he had gone out, asks for a child’s toy, so do you in this case also.
When you are calling out on the Rostra, have you forgotten, man, what these things are? Yes you have. They are objects of great concern to these people; will you too then be made a fool for these things? ‘I was once a fortunate man, but I lost my good fortune, I know not how.’ But fortunate means that a man has assigned to himself a good fortune, and a good fortune is good disposition of the soul, good emotions, and good actions.
The substance of the universe is obedient and compliant. The reason which governs it has in itself no cause for doing evil, for it has no malice, nor does it do evil to anything, nor is anything harmed by it. All things are made and perfected according to this reason.
Let it make no difference to you whether you are cold or warm, if you are doing your duty, or whether you are drowsy or satisfied with sleep, or whether you are slandered or praised, or whether you are dying or doing something else. Dying is one of the acts of life. It is sufficient then in this act also be done well with what we have in hand.
Look within. Let neither the peculiar quality of anything nor its value escape you.
All existing things soon change, and they will either be reduced to vapor, if indeed all substance is one, or they will be dispersed.
The reason which governs knows what its own disposition is, and what it does, and on what material it works.
The best way of avenging yourself is not to become like the wrong-doer.
Take pleasure in one thing and rest in it: in passing from one social act to another social act, think of God.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
Paul Specht Orchestra – You’re Just Another Memory (Columbia 1807-D 1929)