Thursday, October 27, 2016
Momento Mori, South Korean Style
Memento mori ("remember that you have to die")[
Okay, some trends are lost in translation. Apparently there is a centre in South Korea where people can go and contemplate their mortality, actually sitting in a casket as they do so. This is the story from the New York Times:
SEOUL, South Korea — Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be at your own funeral? Some South Koreans aren’t waiting to die to find out. It’s become a trend in recent years to act out a mock funeral service as a way of better appreciating life.
The Hyowon Healing Center in Seoul runs one such program, with financial backing from a funeral service company. After an instructional lecture and video, participants are led into a dimly lit hall decorated with chrysanthemums, where they sit, often tearfully, beside caskets and write their last testaments. Then they put on burial shrouds and lie down in the coffins.A grim-looking man dressed in a black robe, “the Envoy from the Other World,” hammers the lids closed. The participants are left encased in utter darkness for 10 minutes — which can feel like an eternity.
At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour session, Mr. Jeong tells the participants: “Now, you have shed your old self. You are reborn to have a fresh start!” It takes a few minutes for them to readjust, but soon they are chatting, laughing and taking selfies with their coffins.
As bizarre as this sounds, we live in a society which seems to be increasingly death-denying and where many of the rituals to help people grieve are being abandoned or minimized. The phrase "memento mori" reminds us that we are mortal and whatever our eternal hope we all kick the bucket which supposedly informs our "bucket list." (I really hate that term.)
I wonder whether this somewhat morbid experience will find it's way to North America? I suppose we have a literary precedent with Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral. I do like the born again emphasis at the conclusion of the South Korean sessions, but surely there is an easier way!
Would you be interested in test-driving a casket? Are we part of a death-denying culture? Are you prepared to meet your maker?