Second semester freshman year I was sitting through my Western Civilization class in a daze as usual when suddenly my ears perked up at the spontaneous utterance of “…and they said ‘Memento mori.’” And there it was again.
“Memento mori” means “remember you will die” in Latin. The first time I heard the phrase I was in my religion class sophomore year of high school. I can remember my teacher explaining that it was repeatedly whispered into Roman Emperors’ ears during a victory triumph by his slaves to remind them of their mortality and that they were not God. Yes, it’s a little morbid, but I thought it could also be interpreted as “remember you are only human.” This suggests that we, as humans, will make countless mistakes throughout our lives—both big and small. But what can we do about it? It is our fate, and we must accept it. Learn from it. And move on.
The third time I had heard the phrase I was on a site visit to Torre Argentina for my Roman History class while I was abroad in Rome. My professor was explaining the triumphs to us, and I could practically finish her sentence, “… and then they would whisper…” It was my phrase because of its affect on me. I was in love with its power. It was just words, but I loved what they meant.
I decided that all of these encounters were signs that “Memento mori” needed to be tattooed on me. I have yet to get the tattoo, but as I sit here, writing this post, I cannot help but recognize the travel that occurred between each instance that I encountered the phrase; it essentially travelled with me—even chasing me to Europe. The tattoo was affecting my life, similar to how Lalolagi’s tattoo affects herself and the rest of her family. The tattoo plagued the family, following them wherever they travelled. The unfinished tattoo symbolized humiliation and despair, and those were the two elements that the family withstood; they made the tattoo their identities, and it was part of their person physically, emotionally, socially, and psychologically.