The rockstar Warren Zevon had been on the top of the Billboard charts. He’d been on the cover of Rolling Stone. He’d been admired by other great artists and musicians like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty. The heights of fame were enjoyable, but it took a jarring diagnosis of terminal lung cancer to give Zevon the kind of perspective that only a memento mori moment can give. And when it came, he passed it along in a very simple, very practical piece of advice:
Enjoy every sandwich.
We recently talked about how, to have a chill life, you just have to be comfortable making less money. But isn’t money a source of great experiences? No more so than ordinary life. The Stoics understood this. So did the Epicureans, because in the end, the two schools were not that different. It wasn’t success or fame or banquets or pleasure dens that made us happy. It was the simple and ordinary moments…if we could be disciplined enough to be present and grateful for them.
Sure, it’s great to write hit songs, it’s wonderful to be able to travel the world, to be able to afford fancy stuff, to live in Marcus Aurelius’ palace—but there is also nothing like the simple pleasure of eating a sandwich. Or drinking a glass of water after a run on a hot summer day. Or listening to that one song that always makes you feel good.
There’s something haunting about the thought of how much life people throw away because they think they need a lot of money. Or because they are always chasing the newest, coolest, most extreme things. Because they don’t realize the greatest things in life are cheap, if not free. Because they don’t enjoy every sandwich.
And then one day, it’s too late and they’ll never have another.