Ever been to a Death Cafe? They’ve been popping everywhere from Boston to Beijing, offering a congenial space where people gather to ponder mortality and the meaning of life over tea and cake. Having started in 2011, at the latest count nearly 3,000 Death Cafe meetings have taken place in more than 30 countries. The movement confronts an ancient existential dilemma: How should we live, given that life is short and time is running out on us?
Generations of scholars and sages have, of course, meditated on this question, from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu to the medieval theologian the Venerable Bede, from the Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne to the anthropologist Ernest Becker. One of the most recent figures on the scene—arguably a sage of the digital age—is the Venerable Steve Jobs.
In 2005, the Apple founder gave a commencement speech at Stanford University that went viral on YouTube under the title, “How to Live Before You Die.” Jobs, then 50 years old, described how for the previous 33 years, he started every morning by looking in the mirror and asking himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”