St Theresa of Ávila described life as a bad night in a bad inn. If you expect eternal paradise afterwards, I imagine worldly existence can seem rather inadequate, but to most of us it is all there is. Which doesn’t stop us making ourselves far more miserable than is strictly necessary.
I happen to derive pleasure from knowing and understanding things. Reflecting calmly on my deathbed, if I have that extravagance, I might well look back and wish I had bothered less about the higher arithmetic and Sanskrit poetry, and spent my time having children or saving the whale or just gossiping about nothing with people I had spent my life close to. It is perfectly possible, although I cannot know it now. I will know when I am there.
I don’t expect to agree with the Saint of Ávila, who seemed to suggest that we should be glad to die and get out of this ghastly place. I rather like it here. Perhaps I shall go somewhere which is much better than this, but in any case I want to believe that I haven’t wasted my life. How can I know what is waste and what is not waste?
Memento mori. If I remember my Latin correctly this is an injunction to remember our own mortality, with the implication that if we do so we will have a greater sense of proportion about ourselves and our lives. That is, we will value ourselves less and our time on Earth more.
I am constantly aware of my own mortality, and of the fact that, however much time I have left, it is less than I had yesterday. An astonishing number of people seem completely unaware of the fact that one day there will be no more days, and they spend their time in ways that are not only unproductive and apparently pointless, but are quite clearly unfulfilling, even by whatever standards they might have themselves.
I know people who can spend an entire day in some combination of heroic sleep, inane entertainment from the television, and inane and ignorant conversation about nothing. Such people are not at all unusual, I understand. In fact, it appears to be those of us who do things we do not have to do, things that are more difficult and require more effort than is strictly necessary, who are considered strange. Do they feel, at the end of the day, that they have lived it to any purpose? Presumably they would not even understand the question, because if you can seriously ask it, the answer must be no.
Remembering that one day you will have done all you can ever do, regardless of what you have and have not done, is a good way of making the most of the day, and of feeling some form of satisfaction at the end of it. But does the same thing apply to life? Can we know what we will care about at the end? Probably not. But I am almost certain that, unlike the Saint of Ávila, I shall not be glad to see it go.