Image by Andy Paciorek
It’s time for another quirky short story from Australian author Boris Glikman. Death is a topic that has been on my mind a lot over the last couple of years as I’ve lost so many people I’ve known and loved so this concept is particularly thought-provoking for me. Enjoy!
It was widely known that Death had been ill for some time. Its poor health made it rather slipshod in the execution of its duties. Whole generations were being taken away in the flower of their youth, while other people were living for an extraordinarily long time, over 400 years in certain cases.
For a while Death hovered in a half-alive condition, with one foot in the grave, and mankind held its breath, fearing that it would rally and make a complete recovery.
And then the day came when Death breathed its last and nobody could believe their good fortune. It was hard to grasp that Death no longer dwelled in the world, and that one’s life would never again be burdened with the ever-present spectre of extinction hovering nearby. No one would have to grapple any more with the problem of incorporating one’s own demise into their lives.
The most eminent pathologists of the land were assigned the task of performing autopsy on Death. Their unanimous conclusion was that it died of natural causes. What nobody had suspected was that Death possessed a finite life span. Everyone always assumed that it would live forever, yet it too carried within itself the lethal seeds of mortality.
The next most pressing issue on the agenda was the burial of Death. Issues that never have been considered before needed to be addressed urgently, for the world wanted to be sure that Death really was dead and would not rise again. Where should the funeral ceremony be held? According to which religion’s rites should the memorial service be conducted? Who should give the eulogy? Where to entomb it?
The matter of whom to invite for the service proved to be the most intractable issue of all. It was nearly impossible to determine who was genuinely grief-stricken by Death’s passing and who only wanted to attend the ceremony so as to be a part of a historic occasion.
Eventually, all of these matters were resolved, although not to everyone’s satisfaction, and the world gave Death the sending off that it deserved. Straight after the funeral, the world kicked up its heels and started to celebrate.
After the wave of joy at being liberated from its tyrannical rule had abated, people sobered up and started to remember the ways that Death had helped out in the past.
They recalled with fondness Death’s unique ability to resolve every inextricable problem of existence; its unmatched faculty of erasing all pain, shame and misery; how it provided an honourable solution to hopeless situations and readily offered its helping hand to anyone that would ask for it; the way that it brought equality to the world and granted everlasting rest to the weary.
Religions could no longer survive without Death, for their appeal and authority derived from the promise of ideal existence in the next world. New religions arose which prophesied that one day mortality would return to Earth and that the virtuous would be rewarded with Eternal Death.
Mankind recognised how fundamentally it depended upon Death’s existence for the maintenance of social order and peaceful international relations. Given that capital punishment and armed conflicts ceased holding any threat to a person’s life, nothing stood in the way of lawlessness and immorality in human affairs, and countries went to war on the slightest pretext.
Life soon lost its meaning, for Death had been needed to provide the contrast that distinguished being from non-being. Without it, existence seemed tedious, no longer worth enduring.
Each human being was forced to find the strength to face a baffling future in which the saving grace of demise was no longer present. Only then was it realised how Death had woven its fateful thread into every aspect of man’s existence and how much had been irremediably lost the day Death died.