by Carl Kruse
Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations” is one of 8-10 books that peer at me from my desk, and if inanimate books emit energy I feel that of the Meditations with an energy all its own, a communing with time and place long ago. The more so since Marcus Aurelius never intended his writings for publishing being a sort of private diary as they were that he kept for himself. But thankfully here they are.
Once the most powerful man in the world, head of the Roman Empire at the height of its influence, Marcus Aurelius reflected on what made for a good life and how best to survive the unexpected twists and turns of the world. His reflections have often helped me face the unexpected twists and turns of my life. “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing,” he said, “because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks.”
A recent story by Jamie Lombardi in AEON on how the “Meditations” helped her survive the loss of her husband (read here) resonated with me, as I myself have turned countless times to the same book for solace. Jamie’s article spurred me to write here today.
Taking up the injunction to “fight to be the person philosophy tried to make you,” Lombardi found deep consolation in the “Meditations.” Overwhelmed, distraught, with no idea how she would raise two children on her own she was reminded that she didn’t need to solve those problems right away and to “not to be overwhelmed by what you imagine, but just do what you can and should.” As to her future, which looked hopelessly dark, she found the advice to “never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present,” to bolster her spirit, advice Aurelius often gave himself.
But the idea that had the profoundest impact on her was the reminder that the story we build around what happens to us is, in the end, up to us. No matter the horror that befalls us, it is still our choice whether to interpret our journey as one of defeat or beautiful victory against the odds.
And this has bolstered me as well. In a real, non-pollyannish way, the recognition that our narratives — how we react and define ourselves to the world, indeed to ourselves — are up to us, no matter what life throws our way.
• Jamie Lombardi teaches at Bergen Community College, New Jersey.
• I’ve started re-reading Kuei Shan, which follows Marcus Aurelius by about 500 years. Recommended. (Freedom From Artificiality )
• A book I never tire of is Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” (Devouring A Whale).
• Reach me at carl AT carlkruse DOT com
• https://www.carlkruse.com ( Miami, Florida )