I found Stoicism in a hospital waiting room. My grandmother, the rock of our family, was dying. There was nothing I could do. No words that I could say that would make things better. It wasn’t about fair or unfair, love or the lack of it. It wasn’t about wishing things were different because that wasn’t going to change reality.
To make the waiting a little more bearable I decided to read a book by an author that was influenced by Stoicism.
I read that there was a difference between perception and observation.
An observation is what is happening. The perception is what we think about it.
The fact was, in all likelihood, my grandmother would die. Uncomfortable thoughts swirled in my mind, so vividly that it moves me to write this piece now.
Back then, I hoped she would pull through. I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure what I would do if she didn’t. I wasn’t sure where her death would lead me. I wasn’t sure what it would mean for my family.
When my family and I heard the news that she had died, the Stoic book was on my lap.
I remember looking around the waiting room as the oxygen got sucked out of it. All hope had gone. I remember watching the faces I had known all my life contort from shock into pain within seconds. I remember finding it odd that I wasn’t crying.
Instead, I was working the Stoic principles through in my mind. I remember the solace Stoicism brought me when the first overwhelming emotion was not fear nor grief but gratitude. I was sincerely grateful for the life my grandmother had lived and the things she had taught me.
One of her favourite sayings was “Aim high so if you fall, you fall in the middle”.
She had been my rock and now it was Stoicism’s turn to hand my hand and lead me on. Stoicism took me to unexpected places. It asked me to go beyond thinking about what Stoicism could do for me. It led me to dedicate my life to helping myself and others work out how Stoicism can make the world a better place. It led me and Leonidas Konstantakos (in an academic paper and later our book) to add a circle to Hierocles’ circle of concern so that we can all better envision how caring for our planet, helps us to better care for the self and our communities.
Stoicism took me to unexpected places. It asked me to go beyond thinking about what Stoicism could do for me. It led me to dedicate my life to helping myself and others work out how Stoicism can make the world a better place. It led me to add a circle to Hierocles’ circle of concern so that we can all better envision how caring for our planet, helps us to better care for the self and our communities.
I am grateful for Stoicism.
In some respects, it helped me conquer death.
It helped when I should have been at my lowest low. I didn’t fall because Stoicism taught me that there was nothing shameful or bad about death, only in how we chose to face it.
I remember the nurses being very sad when they came back on their shifts and realised my grandmother had died. They told me she had been kind and made them feel special. The ones that had been by her side at the time, said she smiled to the end. I hope that whatever death I might face, I go out smiling.
I’m Kai Whiting and this is my #PathsToFlourishing story.
Kai Whiting is the co-author of Being Better: Stoicism for a World Worth Living In. He is a researcher and lecturer in sustainability and Stoicism based at UCLouvain, Belgium. Follow him on Twitter. His blog is StoicKai.com.
This is a #PathsToFlourishing story published as part of a series of stories inspired by the Stoicon-x Women 2021 theme: Practical Paths to Flourishing.