Halloween is approaching, but Christine Schoefer doesn’t need a holiday to remind her that we are mortal. She wears that reminder on her wrist
My bracelet is a circle of skulls, seventeen hazelnut-sized bone carvings with gaping eye sockets. No two are alike; some have teeth. I wear the beads on my left wrist and they interfere with routine actions. I feel their pressure right now, as my arm rests on the table. The bracelet is not supposed to be comfortable. I put it on after my mother died last year, to symbolize my grief.
For weeks after her death, mortality saturated my perception: I noticed parched grass, squashed bugs, wrinkles on faces. My mother’s death changed my position on the lifeline: no longer a daughter, I was the family matriarch, presumably the one closest to the endpoint. A sobering thought. The mala of bone-beads became my memento mori, my personal reminder of mortality.
In medieval Europe, memento mori were public art: skulls carved into cathedral portals, scythe bearing skeletons painted on clock faces. Silently, these symbols beseeched passersby to remember impermanence. They always made me pause, for a heartbeat. Depending on my mood, they humbled or galvanized me: life is pulsing, with death in the wings.
Unexpectedly, my bracelet took on a more universal significance when the modern plague Corona started wreaking havoc. As mortality rates soared, the tiny skulls seemed to vibrate with relevance. I found myself looking at them often, polishing individual beads with my thumb.