The river rises, flows over its banks and carries us all away like mayflies floating downstream. They stare at the sun, then all at once there is nothing.
—Utanapishtim, The Epic of Gilgamesh
Compared to a star, we are like mayflies, fleeting ephemeral creatures who live out their whole lives in the course of a single day. From the point of view of a mayfly, human beings are stolid, boring, almost entirely immovable, offering hardly a hint that they ever do anything. From the point of view of a star, a human being is a tiny flash, one of billions of brief lives flickering tenuously on the surface of a strangely cold, anomalously solid, exotically remote sphere of silicate and iron.
"Mortals, born of woman,
are few of days and full of trouble.
They spring up like flowers and wither away,
like fleeting shadows, they do not endure."
—Job 14:1-2, The Bible
Eternity lies ahead of us, and behind.
Have you drunk your fill?
— Lady Deirdre Skye, Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri
I really should thank you - after all, it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end.
— Agent Smith, The Matrix Revolutions
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
— Roy Batty, Blade Runner
Do not waste your tears. I was not born to watch the world grow dim. Life is not measured in years, but by the deeds of men.
— Saint Sabbat, Warhammer 40,000
Life's a journey. Shame about the destination.
— Commissar Ciaphas Cain, Warhammer 40,000
How fleeting are all human passions compared with the massive continuity of ducks.
—Lord Peter Wimsey, in Gaudy Night
It Ends. That is what gives it value.
— Death of the Endless, The Sandman
[L]ook at the immensity of time behind thee, and to the time which is before thee, another boundless space. In this infinity then what is the difference between him who lives three days and him who lives three generations?
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (trans. George Long)
Your lives are measured in years and decades. You wither and die. We are eternal, the pinnacle of evolution and existence. Before us, you are nothing.
—Sovereign, Mass Effect
So I say to you -
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:
Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.
So is all conditioned existence to be seen.
— The Buddha, The Diamond Sutra
It was, said he, the opinion of learned philosophers of our race, who lived and flourished long before my time, that this vast world, the Moulin Joly, could not itself subsist more than eighteen hours; and I think there was some foundation for that opinion, since, by the apparent motion of the great luminary that gives life to all nature, and which in my time has evidently declined considerably towards the ocean at the end of our earth, it must then finish its course, be extinguished in the waters that surround us, and leave the world in cold and darkness, necessarily producing universal death and destruction. I have lived seven of those hours, a great age, being no less than four hundred and twenty minutes of time. How very few of us continue so long! I have seen generations born, flourish, and expire. My present friends are the children and grandchildren of the friends of my youth, who are now, also, no more! And I must soon follow them; for, by the course of nature, though still in health, I cannot expect to live above seven or eight minutes longer. What now avails all my toil and labor in amassing honey-dew on this leaf, which I cannot live to enjoy! ...My friends would comfort me with the idea of a name they say I shall leave behind me; and they tell me I have lived long enough to nature and to glory. But what will fame be to an ephemera who no longer exists? And what will become of all history in the eighteenth hour, when the world itself, even the whole Moulin Joly, shall come to its end and be buried in universal ruin?"
— A mayfly, "The Ephemera: An Emblem of Human Life" by Benjamin Franklin
"In the vast depths of the Universe, the history of humanity is but a flash of light from a lone star. The life of a single person should be lost in time and space."
— Intro Narration, Metroid Prime
"I know, I'm well aware already. Humans die too easily. Their lives are short, they come and go in a flash, while dragons can live longer than this planet..."
—Tohru, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid
"People like us, we go on too long. We forget what matters. The last thing we need is each other. We need the mayflies. See, the mayflies, they know more than we do. They know how beautiful and precious life is because it's fleeting. Look how Sam Swift made every last moment count, right to the gallows. Look how glad he is to be alive. I looked into your eyes and I saw my worst fears. Weariness. Emptiness."
— The Doctor, Doctor Who, "The Woman Who Lived"
"Our quick and messy little lives are so small to them. They build their homes up here so the clutter of our existence is out of their sight."
— Detective Kristin Ortega., Altered Carbon
39. Either there've been thirty-eight other Grandson Richards, and I don't think that's what that means, or it's a newspaper human way of saying that he's thirty-nine years old. Nearly half as old as the Store. And the Store nomes say the Store is as old as the world. I know that can't be true, but-
D'Argo: You have to go through with it, John.
Crichton: Eighty... cycles. My college loans will be delinquent. I'll miss the strippers on my 100th birthday. I'll get a utility bill... for three trillion dollars for a single porch light I left on, AND EVERYBODY I KNOW WILL BE DEAD!
Crichton: Humans do not live as long as Sebaceans, or Hynerians, or Delvians. When I get back, everyone - my Dad, DK, my sisters, Cameron Diaz, Buffy the Vampire Slayer WILL BE DEAD!