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Week #128

​A conversation with Death​​

It is the most calming place I know. Six degrees above the equator on the Indian ocean is a big black boulder some fifty to seventy feet high. It is the southernmost tip of the northern hemisphere in the landmass we call South Asia today. Local lore tells stories about how it was a look-out point in the silk road from centuries ago. I saw it for the first time when I was on vacation a few years back. For a straight week I scaled to the top of the boulder every morning and evening to watch the sunrise and sunset, jumping from one stone to another for the most part and climbing up the sloped rock face the rest of the way. Between the waves crashing at the bottom of the boulder, the wind singing off the ocean and the tall coconut trees swaying to the music, it was the perfect escape from the hustle of the human world. Everything faded to the background and I was alone with the sun, the sea and the earth under my feet. That is what became my safe place. Now, on days when the world becomes heavy and my heart hurts, I close my eyes and meditate myself there. An escape to where I can once again feel the wind dancing with my hair and the sun warming my face. 

I was sitting on top of this rock after a particularly trying day when I met him for the first time. One moment I was alone, breathing the warm, salty air of the tropics and the next he was sitting cross-legged next to me, less than 5 feet away. Strange as it may seem, it didn’t surprise me to find him there. His energy was in sync with the place and he felt more like a part of the landscape than a person. Plus, his face was familiar. It is the face I wish to see every time I close my eyes.

“Hello”

“Hello” I automatically responded while my mind was preoccupied processing the fact that his voice was a couple of octaves lower and his eyes a shade too yellow from the person that face belongs to in my world.

“As far as happy places go, this is a good one.” 

“This is not my happy place. This is my safe place.” I’m not sure why I felt compelled to correct him. It was an insignificant difference I would’ve let slide in normal interactions. But then, in a normal interaction I wouldn’t tell a perfect stranger about my happy place or my safe place either.

“Right… my mistake. Your happy place is him. It’s always been him.” He turned his head to look me straight in the eye before continuing. “You come hide here when your happy place breaks your heart and you need to exchange your tears with a bit of calm from this place.”

There was no question there. Just a statement of fact. A factually accurate statement of fact.

“Who are you? You seem familiar but I’m not certain if it’s because you wear his face or because of something else.”

“I’m a messenger… sort of a guide.” For the first time he gestured with his hands lifting them from his lap, where they were lying perfectly still till then in a meditation pose. His fingers were slightly elongated compared to the person in my world.

“A messenger for whom?”

“Normally, I answer that by saying I’m the messenger to the Gods. Whether it’s God or Gods depends on the person I’m talking to. But for you, I should say, I’m a messenger for the Universe.”

“Why? I’ve never said gods don’t exist. I never picked a side on that argument.”

“That’s exactly it. You’ve never picked a side. But where other people scream at god when they are struggling, you scream at the Universe… or rather, you write to the Universe long, lengthy mashed up letters fraught with complex theories and heart rending pain.”

“So, you are saying there’s an intelligent being somewhere out there that hears us, whether we call it God or Universe?”

“Hmmm… I don’t know if the word ‘being’ can do justice since you humans assign that word to the physical vessel that contains your soul for a short window of time.”

“But the fact remains, there’s intelligence and consciousness that monitor and control our journeys?”

“Now I see why I was sent to you.” This he almost muttered under his breath.

“Why? Why were you sent to me?”

“Apparently because you don’t run out of questions… ever!”

“So, you are here to answer my questions?”

“Some of them… yes.”

“Which ones?”

“Why don’t you ask and I’ll tell you what I can and what I can’t.”

 

“O…K…”

 

It’s one thing to write lengthy notes to a universe that doesn't talk back but a completely different thing to say out loud the questions that have laid heavy on my mind for a while. I wasn’t ready to jump into the deep end immediately. Instead, I opted for a soft ball.

“Why do you look like him?”

 

“Who? Your happy place?”

 

I nodded. At that moment, the light in his eyes was unnerving in that it was a mixture of mocking, pity and almost sadness.

 

“Humans always see me in the form of the one they hold dearest in their hearts. It’s a part of the role I have as a guide. Seeing me in the form they love the most helps humans to relax and that eases my job in guiding them from where they are to where they go next.”

 

“What does that mean? Where they are to where they go next?? Do you mean like when we are in a mental crossroads trying to find our path kind of thing or more like at the end of life kind of thing?”

 

“More the latter.”

 

“Oh… so you are THAT guide... you are Death?”

“Yes, that’s when I interact with most humans.”

“Am I about to die then?” The sense of relief I felt that it was finally ending was palpable.

“No. You are an exception to the rule.”

“Oh…” and the disappointment was of equal weight to the relief before.

“You know that your level of disappointment is highly disproportionate to the life you lead, right?”

“I’d argue otherwise.”

“Yeah? How would you argue otherwise? You have a job you actually like, riches well beyond the average, family and friends that ‘give a shit’ as you humans say, a safe place to live and grow old… the only thing you don’t have that you want is him. But there’s a long line of others you keep at a distance that are happy to step into that void given half a chance.”

“I’d argue happiness is not a relative proposition comparing one's status to another and it’s definitely not the sum total of a list like what you just went through. Yes, I have all the things you point out but I don’t want any of it. I’d happily give all of it up to have a quiet life coming home to him every night. Instead, because of everything you just listed out, I feel the responsibility to live paying back for all the things I’ve been so graciously given whether I want them or not.” I sighed. “If anything, the list you rattled off only makes it more obvious the futility of a life without the person you love to grow old with... This is not even a half life. It’s pantomime, a mockery of the real thing.”

 

“Well, whatever you want to call your life it’s still not your time. I’m not here as your guide in that regard.”

“So there is such a thing as our time to go?”

“Yes. But not the way you think. It’s not an exact time like this day, this hour, this minute.”

“What is it then? How do you know when it's time if not based on a date and hour?”

“It’s based on whether you’ve completed your work.”

“Hold on… are you saying we all have a purpose for being here? Like what we do in this life somehow has a longer lasting impact? That makes no sense. The vast majority of us just wake up, eat, poop, have sex, make babies and die. Other than procreation being the universal purpose of every species, very few individuals ever seem to have a purpose that makes any lasting impact or a difference in the long run.”

“You are mixing up purpose and legacy. Legacy is hogwash, as your people would say. None of you humans live long enough or have the ability to grasp the complexity of what surrounds you to claim a legacy in the grand scheme of the Universe. On the other hand, every single human ever lived and will ever live, has a purpose. When you stack all those purposes together, you collectively create something like a game of dominoes. Each of you representing one unique piece in a long, meandering chain. Each piece has to fall touching the next in order for the game to complete. The moment your domino falls, is your purpose.”

“Ok… so what’s the end game? What is it that we are all playing at ultimately?”

“Oh, that’s above my paygrade. It’s a question only the Universe can answer.”

“Well, that’s not helpful.”

“Told you there are questions I won’t be able to answer.”

“Hmm… That’s fair. You did say that.” I paused. I needed a moment to digest what he had just told me. “So, is the purpose like inventing the light bulb type of thing? Because most of us never really do anything like that, you know.”

 

“Ha! No, no that’s not it. Even for Edison, that wasn’t his purpose.” His yellow eyes looked like they were lit up by a dancing light from within. It was obvious he found my example particularly entertaining. “No. A human’s purpose is generally a very specific event. Like standing under a cherry tree in full bloom at the peak of sunset on a given Spring equinox day pointing to a black cloud uttering Pink… That kind of thing.”

“What? That’s not purpose. That’s just a literal moment.”

“But that is it. Being at the exact place, under the exact right circumstances is the reason you are here... it's the purpose you have to fulfill before I can visit you as Death and guide you forward.”

“That seems small. Disappointing... To spend decades upon decades on this earth just to be in the right place at the right time… that seems almost wasteful.”

“But it’s not. All the decades before prepared you to be who you needed to be in that pivotal moment. It’s like painting a picture. The artist has to prepare the canvas, do the base colors, draw the outlines, fill in the spaces and touch up the mistakes… all before he can put his signature down. Your life is also like that. You have to build everything you need long before the moment you realize your purpose. It's the only way you can deliver it completely.”

“But the example you gave seems frivolous.”

“Most moments look like that out of context… when you can’t see all the dominoes.”

"How do you know? you said you can't see all the dominoes either?"

"Well, I can't see what is in the future. But I've had the benefit of observing a few millennia already. I've seen how they stack up so far."

“Hmm... so, what happens after we live that moment? Do you come get us?”

“Yes. Pretty much. After that moment you have no purpose and even if your brain doesn’t comprehend that, your soul knows your time has passed. So you wither away and I come help you to move on before you become self-destructive.”

“That’s why some people go young and others live to be old? Because their moment came late?”

“Yup… that’s it.”

“Then tell me, when is my moment?”

“You have a bit of ways to go. Not very long even in human time, but it’s not immediate either.”

“So, you can't tell me exactly?... Can you tell me what my moment is?”

“Not directly. No.”

“Then tell me indirectly… tell me something about this purpose of mine that stops me from becoming stardust right now, when I'm ready.”

“Why do you think you’ll go back to being stardust after this life? Most people believe in some form of reincarnation. Either in a heaven with pearly gates and unending luxury or in human form on this earth or another similar one. What makes you think otherwise?”

“It’s not that I think otherwise. I hope otherwise... Like you said, I have as much luxuries as I ever wanted. It doesn't add up to much of a life though.” My eyes filling up made me look down at my feet. Next part still hurt to talk about. “plus... reincarnation means my consciousness, my memories, my hopes and dreams will survive this life. It means even after this life I’ll still want what I want now. I don’t want to suffer this way anymore. I don’t want to open my eyes every morning to emptiness, missing him. I don’t want to cry in my sleep when I can’t control the tears. I don’t want to go to sleep knowing it won’t be any better tomorrow. I don’t want to repeat this over and over, lifetime after lifetime.”

“What makes you think next life will be the same as this one? That you won’t have who you so clearly want?”

“Because if it is me that is reincarnated with my feelings and memories and personality; then he will be himself again too. We are where we are because I’m incapable of letting him go and because he’s incapable of choosing us. One of us needs to change for the outcome to change. So, I choose to change. I choose stardust.”

 

“You choose stardust so you will be no more. Your memories, your consciousness, your soul scattered across to never again come together to become you and with that you want to break away from the cycle you two are stuck in… and you want to do that while leaving him to be himself?”

 

“He’s happy with his life and he is integral to the happiness of many, many more lives than I will ever be. As long as he wants it, I hope he will always have the choice.”

 

“You don’t think he’ll miss you when you are not there?”

 

“Maybe for about a week. But probably less if you time it right. As far as distractions go, he has a much longer list of options than most. They’ll fill any gap I leave… and if it’s another life we are talking about, he won’t even know I’m not there if I never existed in that one.”

 

“Hmm… interesting theory.”

 

“Yeah? Interesting how?”

 

“Interesting as in…” it was frustrating to watch him hesitate. “Well your purpose, that moment where you are part of the chain of dominoes, is tied to him.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yeah, so taking you out of the game leaves an empty spot that will derail his purpose and as you said, his sphere of influence is much larger which means his single moment of purpose actually push more than one other domino to fall.”

“So… taking me out early means all those dominoes will get stuck?”

“Taking out anyone prematurely makes the game erratic but yes, taking you out will result in a need for a larger remedy.”

“But he barely hears me these days and even when he does, he rarely listens anymore. If he’s my purpose the timing should’ve been a couple of years in the past. Are you sure you haven’t miscalculated the timing?” 

“First of all, a moment is not an overtly interactive event where the parties involved are aware their lives are hanging on the balance. Humans have this notion of 'saving' each other. It's nothing dramatic like that... and no, I didn't miss the timing. I would’ve been notified if I did.” He showed the inside of his wrist as he spoke. Two red welts that looked like slash marks were there.

“So, you messed up twice before? That’s not a bad track record if you’ve been doing this gig for all the millennia the universe has been around.” despite my attempt at levity his eyes stayed dead. No light. No mirth. “Right, the point is you didn’t make a mistake in my case. Got it.”

“That means you have to make do in this life for a little more time.” I clearly heard the steel in his voice this time.

“Yes, I got that. Otherwise, your job becomes harder. Don’t worry. I’ll make it.”

“You know, because of the time I generally interact with humans, I get a lot of fear, sadness and longing. Very few really want to let go. I generally have to reason with most to convince them it’s time and show them there’s something beyond this life. But you… you are sitting here trying to convince me to hurry up. You are defiant to the point of questioning whether I’ve made a mistake… and you are convinced the world will be better without you." The pause that followed made the air around me feel heavy on my skin. The next comment sounded more like he was talking to himself. "No, I’m not worried about my job. You are not a risk. You are an anomaly… and I wonder if the Universe will grant your wish at the end of this round. It’s very rare that a game piece is retired for good. It’s even more rare that a piece is disassembled to base elements and its memory completely erased.”

 

“Hmmm… if I don’t ask, then I have to be stuck in this cycle again and again. Especially if my purpose is tied to him, then I’ll never be able to lead a life without finding him in each round.”

 

“Yes, but is it really all that bad? I mean, I see how many want to be in his life. You said it yourself, he’s the sunshine and starlight for so many of you humans alive right now.”

 

“He is sunshine and starlight… and the breath in my lungs, the music in my head and the fire in my veins… but that is the problem. He’s not mine and has no desire to be mine.”

 

“You need to understand, he was never meant to be yours. You are in his life because he is your purpose. Not because you are his.”

 

“I get that now. It doesn’t make anything better though.”

 

“That’s because your expectations were always beyond its means.”

 

“Yeah… got it.”

 

“Now your defiance is turning to sadness and longing? You want to give up who you are without a second thought for all the time left in the Universe but him you still long for? How does that work in your head exactly?”

 

“I told you. I want the longing to stop. I have no control over it and you’ve already told me that it will come to nothing. The only way I can make it stop is by not being me.”

“But you have to be you so he can deliver his purpose.”

 

“Right. So I will.” It was beginning to hurt again. “Now can I ask for a favor?”

 

“You can ask but I don’t have the power to do favors most of the time.”

 

“Is there any way the Universe can stop showing me little details about him that no one else sees?”

 

“Like what?”

 

“They are little things. Like, when he wakes up or falls asleep. When he’s burning for someone or when he loses control and makes stupid plans. The people he hangs out with. People he loves and spends all his time and energy on… it’s not that I don’t want him to be happy. It's just too much information and I just don’t like myself much when I get jealous… but mostly, it still hurts to not matter in his life anymore.”

“But you have to know those things to be able to serve your purpose. Why else do you think the Universe would make you sensitive to them?”

“but this is a level of intimacy that hurts every day… to know someone like this and not be allowed to love him is impossible” I was surprised there were no tears. Only the sense of choking inside the chest.

“That’s because you set yourself up with the wrong expectations. Now you know he’s not meant for you. You have to refocus to just support him. Stop crying for him. Stop asking for his time. Let him live his life. Just spend your time making sure he’s happy. Try to put a smile on his face every day. When you see him stumble, help him to stand up. When he’s down, be a shoulder to cry on. When he burns, keep him safe till he can rise again.”

“So… stick around and love him but don’t ask him to love me back?”

“If you already know he won’t, that he can’t, then what’s the point in asking?”

“Right… because we are not written in the stars.”

“As cheesy as that line is, it is true. You all are written in the stars one way or another. You two just are not in the roles you wish for.”

“Right, because the whole ‘free will’ thing is just malarky.”

“No. It’s not. It’s the exchange Universe made with you all. You have free will as long as you fulfill your purpose. In exchange for that one moment, you get an entire lifetime of experiences of your choice.”

“Except you can’t make any choices that would jeopardize that one moment.”

“Well, yes. That is the catch.”

I didn’t have any more questions or favors to ask. Only a lot to think about. 

How long I sat there thinking I can’t tell. Time flows different in there anyway. Throughout the entire time, Death stayed. Not quite still but blending with the sky and sea to be almost still. 

“Alright… I think it’s my time to get back to the real world. I haven’t written the goodnight note to him yet and given what you’ve said, I need to keep that up for a while it seems, however hard it might be... I suppose next time we meet you’ll tell me my purpose is done and it’s my time to go?”

“It doesn’t have to be. I mean the next time we meet doesn't have to be when it's your time to leave this life. You can call me if you have questions or want to talk through anything before that. That’s part of being an exception to the rule.”

“Oh”

“That’s the part that surprised you? You sat here and accepted being a part of a larger plan of an intelligent Universe, the limitations of free will, reincarnation and never getting to see the one you love much less hold him or make love to him… all that was fine, but the fact that you can call up Death anytime for a chat surprises you?”

“Yes. I thought this is a one time thing because I was struggling a little extra today.”

“Now you know it’s not. Now when you fall apart, call me. I might be less empathetic than the average human, but I won’t be as silent as he is these days when you write to him, at least.”

“Ah… I see… this is your insurance policy that I will only tell positive things to him from now on. That I won’t tell him when my heart hurts or my world crumbles... That I miss him so bad I don’t want to breathe… you are asking me to save those for you… I see. Probably a good plan, I guess.”

“Nothing escapes you, does it? Or maybe I’m just not good at sugar coating things the way humans are. Apologies for that. I haven’t done this often. But I am looking forward to being your friend.”

“In that case, take a message from me back to your boss. I will do their bidding. I’ll deliver the moment, whatever it is, whenever it comes. But only if I have their word that this is my last life. No reincarnation. No consciousness after this one. They can create a new game piece to take my place or they can restack the board. I go back to stardust. No memories. No longing. No more versions of me of any sort after this round.”

His yellow eyes studied my face for a few long moments, head tilted to the side in a way all too familiar to me. Then he nodded. Stood up and offered me a hand to stand up myself. The temperature of his hand surprised me. It was like burning ice. Warm and cold at the same time. At the last moment, when I was about to let his hand go, his fingers closed around mine, making me look back up at his face.

 

“Do you know who most people see when they look at me?”

 

“You said they see their loved ones.”

 

“Yes, do you know who most people love above all?”

 

The look in his eye made it obvious it wasn’t the usual answer. “I’m guessing it’s not their family or friends??”

 

“No. Most people see themselves. In the prime of their youth adorned in all the material things that they believe is happiness.”

 

“Oh… that makes sense, doesn’t it.”

 

“Yes… but you don’t see yourself. You see him.”

 

“Right… well, think we’ve established where he stands in my world. But I bet there’s a good few others that will see you as him too.”

 

“I’ve done this for millennia. I’ll wager anything that no one else will.”

 

“Why are you so sure? You don’t know him the way I do.”

 

“I don’t need to know him to make the wager. I know his role in the game and his purpose.”

 

“Ah… I see him, because he’s my purpose and no one else’s. Is that it?”

 

“Maybe… but I don’t think it’s because you have no choice in the matter. A person’s happy place is always a choice Universe respects.”

 

“I see…” I really didn’t. But I was grateful his will be the last face I’ll see.

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