• Susan Elaine Jones

Memento mori, Carpe Diem in the time of Covid

The game is afoot.

After what has turned out to be a "funny" year, of lock downs (which are a lot less fun than lock ins, and as I type the new Government precautions against the second wave of Covid-19 is to stop people drinking in pubs past 10pm, so even lock ins aren't what they used to be), and as groups of more than six are banned from meeting, which made postponing future death events until 2021 look like a well planned move, I wondered to myself how to brighten up the days of limited walks outside whilst staying away from everybody.

I realised that this was an issue common to many friends, and death conference attendees who I have missed having contact with this year.

So, I did some art, and invented a game.

The art is a coin, designed and commissioned by me, based on the medieval tale of the three kings who meet three skeletons on the road. The skeletons say:

As you are now, we once were

As we are now, you will become

It was a way to remind ourselves that everyone, rich or poor, will die at some point. Even the rich and wealthy cannot avoid it.

My tomb is a bit grander than your tomb

We are all equal in death

(A sentiment ascribed as a quote by the internet variously to John Donne, Publilius Syrus and Claudius Claudianus. And not strictly true as some people have slightly grander monuments than others.)

But I still like the idea, and there is still the erosion of time that can level things out - as in the poem Ozymandius:

Look on my works ye mighty, and despair

Nothing beside remains...

Anyway, I'm getting off topic.

I got some coins made, with a living face on one side and a skull on the other ("heads" or "deads"). The skull has the message "I once was"- matched with the face "as you are now". The skull side also has "memento mori" (remember you will die), matched against the face side of "carpe diem" (seize the day). As such, the overall message is that our time is finite, so enjoy what you can. And, if you need to toss a coin to make a decision as to whether to do something today or to put it off, it's pretty ideal!

Memento mori Carpe diem coin

But the more fun part is "the game".

The game

I sent a bundle of these coins across these fair isles to friends and death buddies who I know frequent disused graveyards, desolate beaches, ancient byways and other places that you might walk to contemplate. With the coins were the rules to "the game":

  1. you gain points for the first coin found - so don't hide them all too well

  2. you also gain points for coins that take awhile to find - so make some a challenge

  3. you gain points for geographic spread - so take some when you travel

  4. you lose points for any coin not found after 500 years, as it is classed as lost forever.

  5. It is a competition. There are other players. There will be prizes.

  6. Good luck!

The game is in play across Britain! So far I know around 50 coins have been stashed, at least 5 picked up from their initial spots, but not a single person has thought to search the internet for their coin, find this webpage, report their find and kick the leaderboard off. A few friends have asked how I would know if a coin was found, so even they hadn't thought to google it. But, the game runs over 500 years, which I think gives me ample time to consider the points system as well as figure out what will be a good prize in the year 2520!

Mostly the game is about finding more fun in the daily strolls around the block or the trips out to avoid plague-carrying people (such as three medieval kings may have met on the road), and to spend time looking at the familiar in new ways. Which may just brighten the day of a friend out for a walk, and a stranger who sees something a little out of the ordinary in their path.

And... if you're not lucky enough to find one, but really fancy a "heads" or "deads" decision coin for those life or death decisions (like whether to go to the pub tonight), I've a few spare that I'm selling on Etsy.

Good luck, and happy walks!