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Positive symbols/reminders of death?
March 3, 2014 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Lately I have been catching myself remembering that I am going to die one day. I think, like like Steve Jobs that remembering this fact is important. I'd like to get a tattoo on my hand, or somewhere visible as a daily reminder, "you are going to die one day". However I would like to find a symbol that represents the opportunity and responsibility of that fact, not the fear of it (like a skull). Any help?
posted by ejfox to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by jessicapierce at 10:37 AM on March 3 [4 favorites]

I have several tattoos. One of them is of a fallen statue, Ozymandias style. What I've found is that every tattoo inherently is a reminder that you're going to die on day. So don't sweat too hard on the symbolism. And get it on your foot rather than your hand.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:40 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]

It may help to know that these are classically known as memento mori.
posted by zamboni at 10:41 AM on March 3 [5 favorites]

How about a Tikker?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:41 AM on March 3

> I have several tattoos. One of them is of a fallen statue, Ozymandias style. What I've found is that every tattoo inherently is a reminder that you're going to die on day. So don't sweat too hard on the symbolism. And get it on your foot rather than your hand.

I appreciate the advice! I think I use my tattoos differently, in general I try to use them to record experiences or revelations I've had and things I'd like to remember about myself. The glider on my left arm reminds me to stay true to my hacker roots, 'anteros' on my elbow reminds me to love those who love me, "walk humbly" across my toes is a bit self-explanatory. I definitely want this one in a prominent place that I see every day (I still find myself forgetting the tattoo on my wrist sometimes, but I guess it's been 7 years with it...)
posted by ejfox at 10:45 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]

A flower with a petal fallen off?

Your date of birth? 75:03:03 or 03:03:75 for eg.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:45 AM on March 3

The phoenix

Shiva — lord of destruction that is also transformation
posted by Tom-B at 10:46 AM on March 3

A simple line segment with clear endpoints?
posted by oinopaponton at 10:46 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]

If you are a Liza Minelli fan, a cradle and a tomb?
posted by chaiminda at 10:46 AM on March 3

Happy dancing calaveras
posted by Tom-B at 10:48 AM on March 3

How about a burning candle, as a reminder to let your light shine right up until the inevitable moment of extinguishing?
posted by drlith at 10:58 AM on March 3

An hour glass. The Grim Reaper is often depicted holding an hourglass. I was saw a lovely hourglass with "This too shall pass" engraved around it and always fancied a stylised version of that as a tattoo.
posted by wwax at 11:00 AM on March 3

Does it have to be a symbol? I plan to get "this too shall pass" + "the best is yet to come" on my wrists. It reminds me to live in the present and look to the future as a positive thing rather than as something to fear. I also believe in reincarnation, so both statements relate to that belief too in that each lifetime I endure things can only get better and better in the grand scheme of things. YMMV.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:08 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Scales of justice?

Look up your estimated date of death and get that tatooed?
posted by Jacen at 11:10 AM on March 3

We're all mortal. And yet a lot of us live like we're immortal. Days come and go, and we assume they'll keep on coming. There is no sense of urgency. We treat time like water; so cheap that we can pour it on the ground. Most of us have a vague sense that we'll eventually die, but it's not something we tend to think about often. We assume that we're entitled to our 75 years, which invariably seems like it's a long way off, so we forget about it and go back to our day to day routine. Just as your life began suddenly, without your knowledge or consent, it will end. Hopefully not for a while, but don't count on it. You could die tomorrow. Yes, you. I hope you won't.

I've always found this quote (from a man who died young from cancer) meaningful as a reminder of the sort you mention. Perhaps some kind of imagery around water and preserving/protecting/valuing it?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 11:13 AM on March 3 [3 favorites]

Sparrow between two doors?

Doorway in general. Or "In Arcadia" as a reference to "Et in Arcadia ego"?
posted by Diablevert at 11:14 AM on March 3 [2 favorites]

Et in Arcadia Ego jumps to mind. You could turn it into an epigram if you wanted to save some space: E.I.A.E.

(on preview: what Diablevert says)
posted by jquinby at 11:16 AM on March 3

After reading this post, a coffin sounds fitting, or "build your own coffin."
posted by filthy light thief at 11:17 AM on March 3

I have an ankh tattoo on my left shoulder for exactly this purpose.
posted by RainyJay at 11:26 AM on March 3

Roy Batty releasing a dove.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:33 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]

I don't suppose you read Terry Pratchett? The Death of Rats is what I want tattooed for my memento mori. It's not so much a reminder of the opportunity and responsibility but more as a reminder to keep a sense of humor about the world and my inevitable end.
posted by Beti at 11:36 AM on March 3 [1 favorite]

For something more modern, maybe the thermodynamic symbol for entropy?
posted by Conspire at 11:46 AM on March 3

Hash marks indicating how old you are. Add a hash mark each year
posted by ian1977 at 12:12 PM on March 3

i've always like the symbolism of the oroboros.
posted by moss free at 12:24 PM on March 3 [1 favorite]

Maybe an ouroboros?
posted by semaphore at 12:24 PM on March 3

I have an ouroboros. I love it!

My beloved has just the words "Memento mori" on his chest, written backwards so that he reads it every morning in the mirror. I like that.
posted by gone2croatan at 1:52 PM on March 3

Not a tat, but when my wife learned that NYC hospitals standardized the colors of patient bracelets meaning various things, she obtained one in the color for Do Not Resuscitate.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:45 PM on March 3

Not sure how this image would work as a tattoo, but I find it quite striking. It's a representation of an average life, where each box is a month.
posted by panic at 1:39 AM on March 4

Tempus Fugit?
posted by Decani at 3:46 AM on March 4

I'm not an expert, but as I understand it the Ankh is a symbol of eternal life, but linked with a) death/the afterlife, b) creation/reproduction, and c) the divine. To me it's a reminder that our time and power is limited but we can use it to contribute to the world in ways that outlast us.
posted by Drexen at 5:05 AM on March 4

Lovely when somebody asks a question you had yourself. I like the boxes very much.

My own bit I would add would be a candle burning from both ends?
posted by ThrowbackDave at 10:37 PM on March 6

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