Through the history of art, saints are routinely depicted with a human skull. St. Francis is one of the more notable saints who is often depicted holding a human skull. As morbid as this might be, the human skull serves a purpose in the art depicting the saints. The purpose of the human skull in the artistic rendition of saints is to remind the on looker of death — true to its form and meaning as found on pirate flags and bottles of poison. However, the skull in relation to the saints contains an addition meaning. The second meaning of the human skull is to remind the onlooker not only of death but also that all things pass away, and one day everyone will pass from this life into the next. Death will happen to everything that lives. Death is unavoidable. Death is real.
The human skull pictured with the saints, not meant as a macabre fetish, acted as a catalyst for the saint and sinner to contemplate his or her own death and life after death. It allowed the saint and sinner to consider all of life in relation to grander schemes of infinity and finitude and temporality and eternity, for as Shakespeare alluded to in so many of his tragedies that even a king can pass through a beggar’s bowels. Moreover, it is like the words written on a wall made of the skulls of some 4,000 Capuchin monks in the Capuchin Bone Chapel in Rome as if each departed monk who left behind his skull resounds softly the phrase inscribed on the wall “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.”
In his book, The Last Day of My Life, newsman Jim Moret picks up the artistic rendering of holding a human skull and does a spiritual exercise by proposing the question to himself, “What if I only had one day to live? How would I live it?” Though the question itself is cliché, the practice of seriously considering the question is not. Jim Moret, seriously considers and meditates on living the last day of his life. Like all the deep questions of life which are spurned on by tragedy, Jim, after years of ill content with life, depression, and financial troubles, contemplates driving off a cliff one sunny day in California. For an instance the thought of a world without Jim Moret, a world left with the broken lives and misery Jim Moret caused, and a world in which Jim Moret is without the world, and though only a fleeting thought for Moret, it is a powerful thought that brings Jim to his senses.
The wisdom and sobering reality that follows contemplating death or even reading the account of another person is a lesson from which many can learn. Though a few chapters miss their mark by the author not bearing enough of himself, there are a number of chapters that should be required reading for a consumer society. One such chapter is the one on Possessions, where Jim puts his life in perspective and realizes that material goods have not brought him the happiness the goods promised and that true happiness resides outside of material goods. Other chapters that hit their mark for required reading are the chapters on Love and Sacrifice. In the chapter on Love Jim shares the hard moments of his marriage and how he goes about repairing a broken relationship with his wife and the only way he was able to do this is by swallowing his pride and learning to communicate with his wife more openly. In the chapter on Sacrifice, Jim discusses an important value that is all of absent in today’s society, for as one learns by acquiring wisdom that Love and Sacrifice and bedfellows. To remove sacrifice from love is to make Love unloving and selfish.
In the broad stretch of literature of this sort, it is not the best book on the subject, for Jim Moret is not St. Agustine and pales in comparison to Augustine’s Confessions; however, Jim’s book is more easily accessible to the common reader than Augustine and therein lies it’s real worth. Jim’s book is a modern approach to an ancient question fit with timeless answers.
If a person has ever thought “What if I had only one day left to live?” and wanted to follow it up with a serious consideration, “The Last Day of My Life” provides a framework for the exercise.
The Greek lover of wisdom Aristotle once said, “the unexamined life isn’t worth living.” Jim Moret examines life and learns that life is worth living, and he invites others to do the same.