Words to Live By

There are various sayings which one can come across expressing the same basic idea, such as “the only real tragedy in life is to not be a saint” or “the saddest thing in the world is that not everyone is a saint.” All excellent sentiments, especially because they’re quite true.

There’s an interesting saying from Mark Twain, though I suspect more properly from a character he wrote, which proposes an interesting sort of goal because it gets at the same sort of idea, though by being secular in a very narrow and lacking sort of way:

Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry.

–Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

I find it a very evocative quote for two reasons. The first is that the undertaker profits by death, since he’s paid to bury people. When a man would rather not earn his living this way, it says something.

The other reason the quote is evocative is that since the undertaker is a professional, he cannot help but become used to his profession. It is not easy for a man to feel much about the two hundred and thirty first person he’s buried this year, especially if he buried five hundred and seventeen last year.

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