A Stones Throw
Our story begins with an Old Man lying on his death bed. He is surrounded by family, friends, and doctors; each there to ease his inevitable transition. The Old Man, having lived a long life, had what some might call the benefit of knowing that Death drew near. He’d spent long nights wondering what their meeting would be like. Would they hug like lovers reuniting after a long absence? Or like enemies at opposing ends of a sword.
With time came acceptance. Life had proceeded past the point of comfort, each evening bringing nothing but the hopeful anticipation of relief that Death would soon deliver.
Each night, the Old Man was certain, would be his last.
Death, however, had postponed their meeting to the point that the Old Man suspected the mere act of living served as his punishment for misdeeds never atoned for.
One night, when the Moon hid its face behind a veil of clouds and the Wind rested in a soft copse of trees, Life did all it could to encourage a rendezvous between the Old Man and Death. For the Old Man this meant excruciating pain.
Finally, a shadow came forth. The Old Man was surprised by the warmth radiating from the dark figure before him. A smile tiptoed across the Old Man’s face as he stared into the eyes of Death for whom he felt a deep familiarity.
The pain Life had inflicted upon him subsided in the presence of Death. The Old Man felt, for the first time in years, contentment. Tears formed in the corner of the Old Man’s wrinkled eyes as he and Death stared into one another’s being for a brief eternity.
Death glided across the floor and placed a heavy wooden chair beside the head of the Old Man’s bed.
Death took the man’s hand in his own. Comfort, of a sort he hadn’t felt since before birth, swept through the Old Man.
“Why didn’t you come sooner?” the Old Man asked.
“I could not.” Death responded sadly.
Death said, “Let me tell you, before we go on our way, of my greatest regret.
“A long time ago, when I was still young, a bitterness grew inside me. I could not understand why I was reviled, and Life was celebrated. My only duty is to bring comfort from the tortures of Life. Why is it that no-one comes to me willingly? Why do they fear me?
This reality haunted me, but I held fast to the conviction that Mankind’s fear of meeting me was due in part to their short lives. I was convinced that if given enough time, every Mankind would tire of Life’s pain and tedium, and they would come to my doorstep with eagerness.
So, Life and I made a wager. If I won, I would be free to explain to Mankind my intentions in freeing them. My hope being that through understanding my motivation, Mankind would come not to fear me, but rather, Love me.
On the other hand, if Life were to win, then I could never again take a life until Life deemed it so.
And so we set into motion the mechanism of our wager and I came and walked amongst Man. I found a Young Farmer and presented myself as Death. He cowered much as you would expect.
“I’m not ready.”
“I am too young.”
“I have children. A family.”
All the reasons Man so easily finds to avoid my companionship. It was not my intention to take the Young Farmer from Life, however. Instead I presented him with a stone and explained that I would never come for him until he decided he was ready. When he was ready to meet me, all he had to do was throw the stone in the lake his cottage overlooked and I would come.
Life was there as well and blessed the man so he would not suffer the effects of aging like other Men.
The years passed by and the Young Farmer relished in his dominion over me. With his newfound immortality, however, the Young Farmer soon became an Old Farmer, which eventually became a Very Old Farmer.
Our once Young Farmer found himself at the age in which Man’s body begins to give out. When I finally end the rigors of Life for those who I feel will no longer resent my purpose.
Yet, due to his gift from Life the Very Old Farmer remained a Young Farmer in mind and body.
And while it is true I gave the Young Farmer dominion over me, I did not grant that same curse to the Young Farmer’s family. One by one, beginning with his wife, and ending with his youngest child, I freed them from Life. I did not do so out of malice, or spite.
I welcomed each member of his family into my arms. Hand-in-hand we walked to a place far away from Life’s touch. They thanked me, but the Young Farmer cursed me.
Decades gave way to centuries and still the Young Farmer refused to beckon me. Witnessing every atrocity Life had to offer was not enough for the Man to welcome me. The Young Farmer grew lonely, and the memory of his family began to fade. Eventually the Young Farmer took another woman to be his Wife, and together they had many children.
And in time I took them all.
The reality of his loss drove the Young Farmer to madness. In his grief, his mind snapped. He lost himself. Lost who he was, and what was required of me. Crazed, he ran off into the wilderness.
I felt a deep sorrow for him, but I was bound by my wager with Life that I could not meddle though the Young Farmer’s suffering was immense.
Millennium after millennium passed by and the race of Man was no more…with the exception of one. The Young Farmer was doomed to wander this barrel world for all eternity with nothing but his loneliness to comfort him.
But Life would never allow me to take this last being, for if I did, Life itself would cease to be.
And so this went on. A stalemate that lasted an eternity…until Love intervened.
Love spent eons searching for that lost stone. Love moved mountains and rivers, reshaping the world until at last she found the stone I’d given that poor Young Farmer so long ago.
Love found the Young Farmer and embraced him.
The Young Farmer’s dementia subsided. In its place a deep sadness took hold. Staring into Love’s eyes. The Young Farmer took the stone and journeyed home. Love accompanied him as she felt it was not right to desert him at his time of need.
Finally, Love and the Young Farmer stood at the shoreline of the lake his farm had once overlooked. Standing beside Love, the Young Farmer prepared to throw the stone.
In an act of desperation, Life appeared before Man, for Life was not ready to die. Life pleaded with the Man, and complained that Love, by cheating the wager, had doomed Life to nothing more than a memory in the minds of…no one. I felt a deep pity for both Man and Life, and so I joined Love, Life, and Man on the shore of his release.
Sensing that no peace could be fine, Nature (or Mother as we know her) interceded.
Nature, after passively observing for the past eternity, declared that neither Life nor Death shall have dominion over Man. Life, she claimed was too cruel. I, she claimed, was too weak.
I agreed, for if given the opportunity I would free all Men during their first birth cry.
Nature turned to Love and Man and explained the sorrow she felt for fusing the two so closely. For its precisely Man’s capacity for Love that makes Life so painful, and yet it is the only thing that makes Life worthwhile.
It was a paradox that after untold millennia, Nature had never found a solution.
Nature touched Life and myself, in the hopes that Life would be less cruel, and I would be less weak. She fused us with the same Love you Men now feel. Nature then turned to the Young Farmer, took him by the hand, and the two walked to the water’s edge.
“When a Man dies it is like throwing a stone into water. Only a few ripples are the proof he was ever there, and even those quickly disappear. When those ripples are gone, that Man is forgotten, without a trace, as if never he existed at all.
“But that Man did exist,” Nature continued. “His stone floats to the bottom, forever changing that body of water. You sought immortality my Poor Young Farer, and that I shall grant you.”
Together, Nature and the Young Farmer threw the stone into the water. Before it caused even the slightest splash I took that Young Farmer into my arms and held him in the loving embrace I had longed to deliver for eternity.
Nature took the lifeless body of the once Young Farmer and from it she created a new race of man, and in this way Life carried on.
Nature then decided that from then on she would decide when it would be my time to free Men from the bondage of Life. She freed me of that burden, and denied Life what it never should have had to begin; dominion over Death.”
Death paused to wipe a tear from his eye. The Old Man felt a deep sadness for Death, but knew there was nothing he could do to console the ageless being.
“My deepest regret,” Death said. “Is that I could not free you sooner. And while your body is not immortal, trust that the Love you felt throughout your Life is. Love will be the ripple of your memory that echoes throughout eternity.”
Taking him by the hand, Death helped the Old Man to his feet. Together they walked into forever.
The following day when the Family of the old man returned, they found him lying peacefully with a smile on his face. The old man lay with one hand over his chest. Nobody noticed that his other arm hung loosely off the side of the bed.
If they had, perhaps they also would have noticed his fingers hovering inches above a stone on the ground.