Seneca wrote 124 letters to his friend Lucilius. They are published in his famous Letters from a Stoic. All are rather short but contain an immense amount of (Stoic) wisdom. I don’t want to talk about all of these letters, but focus on the very first one.
In it, Seneca talks about how much of our life is already behind us, already in death’s hand. It’s about living a meaningful and the revelation that “the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not to the purpose.”
But there is one sentence, the last one before he says farewell to Lucilius, that really stuck with me and that means so much more than being aware that death is coming: “It is too late to spare when you reach the dregs of the cask." (Originally this is attributed to Hesiod and Seneca refers to it as what “our ancestors believed”).
Spend your life so that you don’t regret wasting your time when the end is near. But that - at least to me - is rather abstract. Yes, we have to be conscious that we will die. But in the hyperactive modern life these moments of essential reflections are rare. For me personally, this sentence is so much bigger if you apply it to the little things. The cask is so many things:
- Take care of your health. Invest into your well-being before you get sick. It’s too late to live a healthy life when your health has deteriorated. Eat healthy, do something for your body.
- When was the last time you called your mother? Don’t take your time together on this earth for granted, call her now and tell her you love her. You never know when the day will come that these calls are not possible anymore.
- Invest in your friendships. It is a soothing thought that there will always be people who have your back and who you can trust. But don’t take this for granted. Nurture these relationships on an everyday basis.
No matter what you do, don’t take anything for granted. Realize everything will end someday, be it health, be it friendships. Invest into the now and don’t regret anything when it’s already too late. Make sure you are not waiting until you reach the dregs of the cask.