[by Seneca, translated by Robin Campbell. Decided to put this up because I thought this piece was hilarious, and also had some really nice ideas that I agree with. The two other great pieces I read tonight for my Creative Nonfiction class are Plutarch's Consolation to His Wife and Seneca's On Noise.]
Ill health—which had granted me quite a long spell of leave—has attacked me without warning again. “What kind of ill health?” you will be asking. And well you may, for there isn’t a single kind I haven’t experienced. There’s one particular ailment, though, for which I’ve always been singled out, so to speak. I see no reason why I should call it by its Greek name [EDIT: haha this is hilarious because we ALL call it asthma now], difficulty in breathing being a particularly good way of describing it. Its onslaught is of very brief duration—like a squall, it is generally over within an hour. One could hardly, after all, expect anyone to keep on drawing his last breathe for long, could one? I’ve been visited by all the troublesome or dangerous complaints there are, and none of them, in my opinion, is more unpleasant than this one—which is hardly surprising, is it, when you consider that with anything else you’re merely ill, while with this you’re constantly at your last gasp? This is why doctors have nicknamed it “rehearsing death,” since sooner or later the breath does just what I has been trying to do all those times. Do you imagine that as I write this I must be feeling in high spirits at having escaped this time? No, it would be just as absurd for me to feel overjoyed at its being over—as if this meant I was a healthy man again—as it would be for a person to think he has won his case on obtaining an extension of time before the trial.
Even as I fought for breath, though, I never ceased to find comfort in cheerful and courageous reflections. “What’s this?” I said. “So death is having all these tries at me, is he? Let him, then! I had a try at him a long while ago myself.” “When was this?” you’ll say. Before I was born. Death is not just being. What that is like I know already. It will be the same after me as it was before me. If there is any torment in the later state, there must also have be torment in the period before we saw the light of day; yet we never felt conscious of any distress then. I ask you, wouldn’t you say that anyone who took the view that lamp was worse off when it was put out than it was before it was lit was an utter idiot? We, too, are lit and put out. We suffer somewhat in the intervening period, but at either end of it there is a deep tranquility. For, unless I’m mistaken, we are wrong, my dear Lucilius, in holding that death follows after, when in fact it precedes as well as succeeds. Death is all that was before us. What does it matter, after all, whether you cease to be or never begin, when the result of either is that you do not exist?
[note: third paragraph left out - full essay here]