In Meditations a reoccurring theme is the acceptance and awareness of death and the end of our time on Earth. While writing down his thoughts and collecting his ideas, Aurelius returned over and over to death and our recognition of death. He did not have a morbid view of our passing, and he did not have a negative view of our death, but he approaches it with humility and realism. The emperor writes, “We ought to consider not only that our life is daily wasting away and a smaller part of it is left, but another thing also must be taken into the account, that if a man should live longer it is quite uncertain whether the understanding will still continue sufficient for the comprehension of things … We must make haste then, not only because we are daily nearer to death, but also because the conception of things and the understanding of them cease first.”
In the emperors view of death we find an understanding that we don’t only expire in a physical form, but in a mental form as well. He is well accepting of the aging process and recognizes that our physical form will break down along the path to death, and that before we do reach our end, our mental faculties will also experience a state of decline. Aurelius, throughout his book, never seems to be worried or concerned with death and generally approaches it as a welcome experience at the end of our lives. Since everyone faces death he sees it more as an equalizing force in humanity, and as it affects everyone he sees no point in trying to hide from it or fear it. This mindset transforms Aurelius’ views on death from pessimistic to optimistic. He is excited about the time he has on earth and is compelled to take advantage of the time he has.
I think you could compare the way that Aurelius views death and our time on this planet to the way that many view school in the United States. Whether you look at high school or college, for many people in our country school life is a limited time period with a beginning and an end. Continuing on in this metaphor I will focus more on college because it can be easier to comprehend the end of college and of the lives we lived throughout college. From my experience in college everyone approaches their time at school with a different lens. Some are excited about every day, some dread each day, some simply want to reach the end, many fear what the end of college will bring, and many students fill the gaps between or occupy multiple states at once. You can see the end of college as a reward and as the end of your life(style) all at the same time, which creates a wide range of approaches to college for students. In my metaphor Aurelius would be a student who recognizes that his time in school will end, and works to fulfill his time at his university before he runs to the eventual end. He accepts that it cannot last forever, and he strives to find ways in which he can constantly improve and gain knowledge that will make each day richer.
This is truly the approach Marcus Aurelius brought to his life and implemented over the long run. He saw death and his eventual end as a welcome part of life, even if he did not want to face it. His message about remembering death is not morbid or fear inducing, but rather a message encouraging us to focus on the present and take advantage of the time that we have.