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I sat beside the monk dressed loosely in orange. He seemed so relaxed in his “Lotus Position”. But I knew I could never pull it off.
I tried nonetheless.
As I awkwardly tried to fold my legs just so, I heard him chuckle.
His eyes were closed but he knew what I was attempting. I ignored him and stretched my legs out before me. There had to be some way to get on this man’s nerves.
But there wasn’t.
I had tried everything from putting bugs in his breakfast to singing loudly about sheep when he was meditating. He never flinched. If anything, he played along with my fruitless efforts.
I closed my eyes and filled my lungs up with air.
“The cacti are bleeding and the camels are asleep!” I yelled in a sing-song voice, disturbing the lovely silence of the evening.
The monk took a deep breath and, without opening his eyes, spoke softly.
“Someone slay the wolf and catch and shear the little sheep.”
It didn’t mean anything, of course. I would say something different each time and so would he.
But I wouldn’t for much longer.
The poor monk seated beside me with his long fingers clasping his knees was dying. He had foreseen it and told us. He said the spirits were calling him back. They needed him for something. When I asked what they needed him to do, he told me he didn’t know. But he would do it for the sake of the spirit world and creation itself.
“Are you afraid?” I asked him. I knew better than to interrupt him when he was in such a trance-like state. But I was a disobedient brat and I was bored. And I was rather curious. The monk always spoke lightly about death. As though it was no big deal that he would be erased from this world. As though it was no big deal that I would never see him again.
Eyes still shut tightly, the monk replied, “Of what, child?”
He did this a lot. I would ask him a question to which the answer was simple. And he would beat around the bush until I gave up and stopped asking questions. Then several weeks later, he would blurt the answer out. And by then I would have forgotten the question.
He knew how to push my buttons and he pushed them far too often for my comfort. I would push his buttons twice as frequently but the man seemed to suffer from a stunning lack of them.
The only time I had seen him almost lose his calm composure was when I was very young. A squirrel had helped itself to one of the cream pies he had made for me. His face twisted a little bit and he looked odd. But it soon passed and he was the smiling, nonchalant monk again.
That squirrel had some idea…I hadn’t a clue.
“Of dying.” I said with a sigh.
The monk was quiet for several seconds. Then he opened his eyes and stared out at the still pool of water before us. A slight breeze blew, carrying his words of wisdom somewhere over the mountains and across the raging sea.
“I fear nothing for there is nothing to fear.”
“Yeah, there is. There are lots of things to fear.”
“Like what, child?”
I shifted uncomfortably on the soft grass under me. He had turned his gaze to me and I hated it when he looked at me. His stare probed my very soul until I thought I would go insane. How many amazing things did this man know about that I didn’t?
“Spiders and bats and bears and disease…and death.”
I relaxed in relief when he turned away from me. He stroked his long whiskers thoughtfully.
“I am sure you have heard this before,” he said. “But I shall remind you: Death is a part of life and it is nothing to fear.”
“But you’re going to vanish from this world. Poof! You’re gone! And a hundred years down the line, no one will ever know you existed.”
“Ah, but I will pass onto another world and I can make sure I am remembered by future generations for centuries to come.”
“What will you do?” I asked.
The monk turned back to me with a curious look. “What would you do, child?” he asked.
I sucked in a breath. What would I do? Something extraordinary! But what? I’m just one person. I’m just me…a kid. What could I do that would make people in the future remember me?
“It depends on how I want to be remembered, I suppose.” I said finally.
“Clever child, you are.” He said, turning away again.
“But how can you not be afraid of dying?” I asked, trying to change the subject in my favor. “What if it hurts? Aren’t you afraid of pain?”
“We are afraid of feeling pain. But we are not afraid of pain itself.”
“What about…” I faded out, knowing that this man probably wouldn’t live long enough to answer me. Perhaps I’d never know. But he surprised me.
“I am not afraid of death or dying because I am not truly vanishing from this world, child.” He said. “My imprint will forever and always be left on this universe. The whole world doesn’t need to remember me. As long as one person whispers tales of me or mentions my name in the odd polite conversation, I shall live on in dreams and histories. I will never truly die. And neither will you.”
I noticed that the monk had turned to smile at me before lying down flat on his back. I watched his chest rise and fall with his last breath and remembered his words.
I did not cry although a hole had filled my heart. I was very fond of the monk as I had been with him for as long as I could remember.
I stood up, dusting the dirt off my clothes and ran.