Epicurus’s final letter begins with a rather remarkable sentence: “On this happy day, which is the last day of my life, I write the following words to you.” While the letter briefly touches on the painful symptoms of the disease that would soon kill him, Epicurus doesn’t dwell on that. Instead, he speaks of the joy in his heart—not caused by his impending death, obviously, but by the memories he has accumulated of the friend he is writing to. Then, before concluding the letter and his life, Epicurus gives final instructions on how to care for one of his young pupils that has shown promise.
What a way to go out! What strength, courage, and poise emanating from a man whose life was supposedly all about pleasure!
Remember, the point of philosophy is to prepare us for exactly this moment (To philosophize is to learn how to die). That’s why we do this reading, that’s why we carry these memento mori medallions, that’s why we think about this scary subject in advance.
So that when it happens—today or in a hundred years—we are able to capture just a fraction of the dignity and selflessness that Epicurus was able to marshall, even as his body quit on him. So that we can live with joy in our hearts to their final beats and call our last day a happy one, and mean it. So that we can continue to take care of the people we’ve found ourselves responsible for, even in death.
That’s what it means to be a philosopher. Now go live it, all the way to the end.