“For his own enlightenment he lived, by man’s thanklessness he died.” These letters were blurred with mold, yet still decipherable, on his gravestone.
His back was to the world, and his eyes gazing out across the green and brown changeless hills, and beyond to the blue changeless sky, and there he stood, with the drippings from the cedar branches, a faint breeze soughed in the cedars, all about him tranquility, a silence, as if standing in the marble halls of Troy, or among the endless sandstone pillars and labyrinth of Knossos. The old man had had his revenge, and his endless rising inflections, death was upon him.
He stood for a time, musing, a thin, to slender erect figure, uncompromising, the doves and sparrows came along in the sunny air. “Well,” he said, “at last,” the dying reverberation of death had come, the day had ended, it had come to this, gestures of it were now behind him in stone, and he remembered something his mother had said, “I’m okay with it, I’m ready, who wants to live like this anyway.” But she of course knew where she was going, and she knew and had accepted Jesus Christ as her savior.
He saw in his mind’s eye, peaceful avenues and dwellings with quiet reserve, he was dressed for death, and death was standing nearby.
He thought, I mean he really thought on the matter of death now. “It will not need a new time,” he told himself. “I will not have time to make new failures; other generations will come and go, in twenty-years who will remember my name? I will not appear again, this is my exist, the custodian is over there waiting, he wants me to hurry up, so he can meet from the ends of the earth, those weightless faces he sees.”
And death looked at him with dusty gaunt and yet gigantic eyes, furious, and murmuring that he was taking so long.
“It’s an amazing thing,” he told himself, “a human life, spanned and then forgotten, and if you are lucky, you are put onto one dry and dusty page. I grieve now a little because once I thought the world: no, someone in the world needed me. I mean, needed me other than for my sound, and labor, laugh and dreams. Mind you, I don’t ask for more life, I would need a whole new life time to find whom and what I need. So at least you don’t need to laugh at me, I see the moment comes, and at the tip, is man’s living hope.”
“You must,” death said, and said no more.
Now he could not raise his own head, lift his hands, his frame was enveloped, as if he had a stroke, weakly he said aloud, propped against a tree, watching the shadow of death, the nameless, clutch at darkness, “Too late?”
“It’s only the body I want,” said death, “you get to keep the memory because it never forget, not even for a second in your life, it is like a building with fortifications, it will never leave you.” Then he added, “Yes, it’s too late.”
“How can it be,” he said, “The fever to life, the fury to do is still in me?”
“It’s born in you,” death rejoined.
“So did you see my brother when he died?”
“Yes,” he said peacefully.
“Then maybe you even know where he went, where he is.”
“Yes,” he said peacefully. Adding “all must die as you know, and then the death breaks their sleep.”
“All right,” he said “then what?”
Now death was looking at him, watching him, “You mean you will not tell me?”
“Yes,” death said, “I won’t have to. Plus, wherever it is, which the reason is, you must have seen that coming anyway while you were with him—slaves, you were valuable, but are no longer, other than that, nobody’s favorite anymore, just a merchantable human for the taking, who died too, like the other ones. You had an ultimatum.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Perhaps I spoke a little rigid, you are fragile now I realize,” barely erect from death. “What I meant was, you didn’t choose one, or put another way, by not making any choices, you actually made a choice, and the choice was that you didn’t need to choose, and this was your one chance. You both could have escaped at any time, so the old sentence is of the past, you must march out the gate into darkness; the one that saved all before you, cannot give you absolution now, or amnesty.”
And then the man cried, “Murderer,” he said it twice, “Murderer!”
And thus he went into darkness and into hell, a plump sentry above the gate opened it wide, and there he stood as death let him go—released him, like a forsaken raven, and there he stood in front of a cenotaph of a man, one he had never saw in person, but had heard a lot about.
And they put on his gravestone: “For his own enlightenment he lived, by man’s thanklessness he died.”
No. 654 (12-29-2010)