By Ranjini George

An earlier version of this letter to Marcus Aurelius, Philosopher-King, Emperor of Rome (161 -180 C.E.), author of the Meditations, his Notes to Himself, placed a joint third in the Odes to Aurelius competition hosted by Modern Stoicism and posted on the Modern Stoicism blog, 24 April 2021.

Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius
Listen to the audio recording:

21 November 2020

Dear Marcus,

The Ontario sky darkening outside my window, my Guan Yin lamp turned on, at an online Zen writing retreat*, I read my first letter to you to a group of nine women.

Soon after, Anna, a woman I’ve never met, messages me privately.

My mother died in February—we read her Marcus Aurelius in the days before she died. He was the one she wanted.

Just as you did with your statuary of your beloved Stoic tutor, Junius Rusticus, I do with you.  

Bk. 2. 2: At every hour devote yourself in a resolute spirit, as befits an Indian-Canadian and a woman to fulfill the task at hand.

Bk. 5. 1: In the morning, when you find it hard to rouse yourself from your sleep, have these thoughts ready at hand: ‘I am rising to do the work of a human being. Soon I will have a mug, (with Marcus emblazoned on it, or another with the words Amor Fati, Love your Fate, not just accept it, but desire it), steaming with dark-roast coffee.

I ask my students to write their obituaries. Most find the topic unsavory, morbid, even terrifying. I exhort them with the words of Socrates: death the bogeyman. I recite your words: “Submit yourself to Clotho with good grace,” die with a “cheerful heart,” a ripe olive falling, blessing the earth and the tree that bore you. 

When my time comes, someone I love will read your words to me and say that you were the one I wanted.

Love and gratitude always,


*The online November Zen writing retreat was offered by my favorite writing teacher, Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, and hosted by the Upaya Zen Center, Sante Fe, New Mexico. Since November 2011, when I taught my first Meditation and Writing class in the Creative Writing program, School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto, I have used this book in my classroom.


Click here for more of Ranjini George’s wise words: Memoir excerpt from – Love, Kannon: Our Pilgrimage to Tokyo

Ranjini George (MA, MFA, PhD) teaches Creative Writing at SCS, University of Toronto, classes such as Pilgrimage to the Sacred Feminine, Meditation and Writingand Memoir as Spiritual Practice. In 2019, she received the SCS, University of Toronto Excellence in Teaching award. Her book, Through My Mother’s Window was published in Dubai in December 2016.

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