A decade ago, I had just recently moved back to Vienna after my year of community service — every able bodied male Austrian has to either spend eight months in the military or a year in underpaid service to the country, and not even my recklessness regarding my earthly shell could exempt me from being deemed able, not for lack of trying — I found myself wandering the first district of this city that I had just moved to.
I wandered through the streets and examined the buildings and churches. At the time I felt a bit in a vacuum; I had dropped out of my architecture courses, realizing that video game design had little to do with that field, nor with what I actually wanted to do with my life, and couldn’t possibly imagine how to find a way for my writing to ever be profitable. Well, to be fair, ten years later I still am not sure how the latter can be achieved without giving up on my principles, for which I am not ruthless –or desperate!– enough.
I once entered a little order church in the first district, there are quite a few, and I did love the medieval and Neo-Medieval architecture at the time. I looked for clues of when and how this church was built, having learned much from my years as a senior altar boy in the town I grew up in. While with the years I found myself in more and more disagreement with the values, I turned to be more fascinated with the building. The delicate sculptures, the “mistakes” in design that betrayed that the building had been started as a Romanesque church, but then was redesigned to fit the Gothic style, then equipped with Baroque interior, which was then thrown out by a new pastor who thought Neo-Gothic was the way to go; until the mayor stopped him, having as a result a weird mix of styles in beautiful evidence. A building that told stories much more interesting than the ones read from the altar.
Now, I don’t remember the rest of the building too well. And the last couple of times I passed it, I was accompanied by Django, who is still not allowed into most sacred buildings. The church I entered had this little fresco at one wall that stuck out to me. In German letters, it read “UMBRA FUI, NIHIL SUM”, Latin for “Shadow I was, nothing I am”. This of course hit close home for a futurephobic post-religious nihilist who thought that Nietzsche, without having read him, was cool.
I wrote a long poem that had this sentence as it’s anachronistic theme. In wailing and shouting I presented all my pain and sorrow in the form of a cringey ballad. I actually was proud of it back then, and I received great feedback. Well. We gotta start someplace.
Why do I mention this story? Because of a memento mori moment memonto miri momo memement memento mori moment that gripped me yesterday, when I heard that a friend died. She was 28, and we hadn’t met in quite some time. What connected us was a social circle in which we both dwelt at times. All riddled by uncertain futures. All troubled by comparable issues. All creative with no one to listen.
This isn’t how things are supposed to go. But then, how are they supposed to go? In the end, what and who we are wasn’t imposed on us. Rather we have to make our lives worth the while. I believe that she did that.
But think about it, if you knew you only had a certain time left, and I know this is cliché, but would you act differently? Sure, if you knew you had like a week, you’d probably stop dieting, maybe start cocaine and shrooms and blast your rainy day fund on donuts. Just don’t forget to order prime, otherwise it might be a bit late. If you had like half a year, you might make your amends with whatever you think you did wrong. But what if you had two years, or ten? What if you had ten years left to live. You probably couldn’t just go “fuck it”, because you would still need to pay bills. You’d need careful planning for nine years and 51 weeks, before you could spend all your rainy day fund on shrooms and donuts.
I can’t even not be silly when I write about the serious topics. Maybe I should feel sorry for that.
Would you not just include the things that you love and desire in your life? Try to have as much “quality time” as possible? So why aren’t you doing it right now?
Eventually, you will either be nothing, or a shadow. Some people will become memories. Of times of uncertainty that passed. Of friends that moved. Of distances traveled and obstacles overcome. Of shadows that no longer darken and of fear that no longer threatens. Of common sorrows that no longer matter. Of worries shared and solved. Of good byes. Of meeting again. Of time passing, but friendship not fading. Of invitations and decline. Of open arms and minds.
I am grateful to have known you. If only you could have had more time.