This might be deemed a rather traditional pick, but I’m surprised to find myself liking Meditations so much.
First, however, I have an interesting anecdote related to my reading this book. About eight years ago, I worked in a prominent Philadelphia law firm. I hated it. The people were creeps, for the most part. Well, everyone knew that I was only working there while on break from college, and that I wasn’t *really* interested in becoming a lawyer. There was one guy there, a secretary (which is odd in itself; not that there’s anything wrong with being a male secretary, except for the fact that he was the only one). Aside from being practically the only male secretary (in a firm which boasted about several hundred permanent and floating secretaries), he was just an odd dude. He had a penetrating stare that seemed to bore into a person, and yet he rarely spoke to others. When he did, his conversation was stilted and awkward. Well, anyway, once this guy confronted me in an elevator. I worked on about the fiftieth floor, so we were in the elevator for a bit, and escape was, unfortunately for me, impossible.
“I hear you’re an English major,” he said.
“Um...yeah, I am.”
“Have you read Meditations?”
“Um…no. Who wrote it?”
“Marcus Aurelius. It’s excellent. I will bring it in for you to borrow.”
The next day, here comes Mr. Weird, with his prized book. Who lends a book to someone he hardly knows? Not I. I don’t like lending books to my own mother, much less a twenty-year-old stranger. It’s even more bizarre when you consider that this, according to him, was one of the most influential books he’s ever read. You wouldn’t pry that book from my cold dead hand. What can I say, I’m protective of my books.
Anyway, that summer, I was busy partying, like every other summer before I turned 21 and became bored with such doings. I had no time for Marcus Aurelius or anyone else, for that matter. But a few weeks later, he stops by my desk.
“Have you read it? What do you think?”
“Actually, no…I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I’ve been so unbelievably busy. [A blatant lie.] I will bring it in for you tomorrow since I am taking so long with it.”
And then, unbelievably, he says, “No. Give it back when you’ve finished it.” And, with those words, he walked away.
I never saw him again. I returned to college, graduated, and got a real job, one that did not involve lawyers. [If you are a lawyer, I’m sorry. But it is more than likely that you are a pain in the ass to work for.]
I graduated college in May 2000, and I’ve finally found time to fit Marcus into my life. Of course, I still have this poor guy’s book, and now I’m mocking him on my stupid blog. I can respect his generosity, although I can admit that I would not be so generous myself. And I thank him, really I do, because Meditations is really damn good.
As the translator notes in his introduction, this book is an excellent bedside book, because you can just pick it up, read a short selection from anywhere in the book, and put it down again. The book basically consists of his thoughts (ahem, meditations) on life. Sometimes he writes his advice on how to lead a good life; other times, he writes his thoughts on death and other important topics. Each nugget is short—a paragraph at most—and these paragraphs are compiled into 12 books, or chapters.
While I don’t find every thing he says to be relevant to my life, he does make many points that I find myself going back to underline so that I might remember them. To wit:
- To wonder what so-and-so is doing and why, or what he is saying, or thinking, or scheming—in a word, anything that distracts you from fidelity to the Ruler within you—means a loss of opportunity for some other task. (Book 3)
- That men of a certain type should behave as they do is inevitable. To wish it otherwise were to wish the fig-tree would not yield its juice. In any case, remember that in a very little while both you and he will be dead, and your very names will quickly be forgotten. (Book 4)
- Nothing can happen to any man that nature has not fitted him to endure. (Book 5)
In a nutshell: I cannot imagine that anyone would read this book and not find it helpful in some way. There is something for everyone here. His wisdom is timeless, and he makes many points which we would do well to remember more often.
Bibliolatry scale: 6 out of 6