by Catherine Doherty.
Death was born on a flaming day—at least that’s the way she remembered it.
For when she came forth, full-grown into the world, it was alight with all the colors of fire. The light seemed to come from a sword which an immense angel held aloft, guarding a door that led she knew not where.
At first, Death felt like a stranger on earth. She wandered around kind of lost. Then, one day, she saw a beautiful bird with snowy white plumage. Gently she walked up to it and stretched out her hand to feel the softness of its feathers which shone so brightly in the sun.
No sooner had her fingers touched it than the bird fell at her feet, cold and still. Death picked it up, wondering why it had stopped singing and stopped living.
That was how she discovered her dreaded power, and then she understood why she had been born on a flaming day.
Slowly, the years flowed into eternity where all time goes. Death traveled through them all, touching now this animal, now that bird, this fish, or that flower. By then she knew the whole earth very well.
She had also noticed that a creature called “Man” dwelt on it, a creature who still held in his face a strange reflection of God. It was as though he had been made in the image of God.
Death took a long time to touch Man. But one day she did—and she saw him shudder. He cried out and became as cold and as still as that first white bird.
On that day Death tasted the fullness of her awesome power. But also on that day she knew loneliness to its very last bitter drop.
From then on, as the centuries turned into thousands of years and the thousands into millions, Death claimed all living things for her own. Yet, there was in her a hunger that grew. In her silent kingdom nothing remained. All living things crumbled and turned into dust at her touch.
She was always left alone with loneliness. There were days—years even—when Death went almost mad with loneliness, mad with the desire to have and to hold something that would last, something or someone that she could call her own.
It was now a time of great plagues, storms and floods. With tears flowing down her emaciated cheeks, Death crisscrossed the whole earth with the swiftness born of her frenzied hunger.
Throwing herself at the children of men, she embraced them passionately, hoping against hope that she might hear a word or see a smile that would lift the pall of loneliness that isolated her from all living things and held her tighter, always tighter.
Men feared Death above all things. They shrank from her approach. They invented thousands of legends about her being incapable of really harming them. They imagined a life after Death’s touch which would somehow resemble the earthly life they were used to.
Slowly these legends grew into religions and beliefs centered on ways and means of escaping Death’s clammy embrace. These attempts left a wide trail of religious artifacts scattered all over the earth.
But Death kept walking the earth. At times she smiled at men’s fear of her and subtly enjoyed her power over them. At other times she wept bitterly, not only because she was so lonely, but also because she sensed that some unknown part of man always seemed to escape her.
One day, tired and weary, she sat on a hill beneath three crosses on which three men were being executed. She did not feel like looking at or touching any one of them. She was too tired, too lonely, too disconsolate. So she just sat there with her weary head in her hands and wept slow, huge tears, bemoaning her aloneness.
Suddenly she heard a voice say softly, “I thirst.” She looked up. Her gaze met two fathomless eyes. From their depths flowed a brilliant, warm, blue light, the likes of which she had never experienced before.
Instantly she stood up, rigid, erect, tall, and thin. A few paces away hung this man between the two others. She somehow did not dare to touch him, though she wanted to more than she had ever wanted to touch anything or anybody.
Very self-consciously she put her hands behind her back and stared at his bleeding and disfigured face as if she could never see enough of it. She heard him speak some more short little sentences. Each word she locked in her heart. She relished them. The very echo of his voice, weak with pain and sorrow, moved her deeply.
Then he was silent, but his eyes called to her in a wordless message. She did not know how it happened, but gently, oh, ever so gently, she touched his cheek. He seemed, for an instant, to smile for her alone. Then like all the others before him, he closed his eyes and became lifeless and cold!
She could not believe it! Somehow she knew without knowing that he was different from all the others. So she lingered for a while. She saw him taken down from the cross.
She saw his mother hold his lifeless body in her arms and cradle his ashen face against her bosom. She saw him carried into a tomb in the hollow of a cave. She saw some soldiers roll a heavy stone in front of the entrance to seal it.
Then, fleet of foot and noiseless as only Death can be, she entered the cave just before the stone was put in place. What passed there between him and Death no human being will ever know. One thing is certain. On the following Sunday, two days after he had been taken down from the cross, some women came to the tomb and it was empty. Death was not there.
Since that Sunday morning, all those who look upon Death with the eyes of faith in that Man see Death differently. Now she is beautiful. They know that her touch brings life, not death. Now Death is God’s messenger of love to men. Love is life, and Death is now the loving gate to everlasting life, herself alive.
From Not Without Parables, pp. 139-142, available from MH Publications.
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