Around the World and Back Home

Once upon a time, a little girl asked her grandmother what was on the other side of the forest. You see, this little girl had lived all her life in the little cabin that her grandmother owned, and this little cabin was on the edge of a large forest. Its treeline extended as far as the eye could see on both sides of the cabin.
You may wonder how it is that this little girl had never seen the other side of the forest; the town where her grandmother went to sell the chickens’ eggs and the cow’s milk and to buy provisions she couldn’t grow for herself was on the other side of that forest. You may surmise that the girl didn’t go with her grandmother on these excursions to town. You may assume that the girl was too little to walk across eight miles of winding, forested path to reach the town.
But the truth is even sadder than that – the girl had never been outside her own room since the day she was born and set into her dying mother’s arms. The little girl was very ill, you see, and too weak to leave her bed. She spent her days reading the books her grandmother exchanged at the library in town, and looking out of the window.
Why, you know what’s on the other side of the forest, my dear, the little girl’s grandmother told her when the question was posed. It is the town that I sell our produce to and get your books from.
Yes, Grandmother, I know, the little girl said. And what is beyond that?
Beyond that there are roads and other towns, the grandmother said.
And beyond those?
Beyond those, I suppose, there is the ocean.
And beyond-
Look here, the grandmother interrupted the little girl’s question, we’ve talked about how the world works. I brought you that book with the big maps in it, remember? Beyond the ocean is more land and more ocean, and if you continued to ask what was beyond and beyond and beyond, why, eventually we would come right back to this little cabin of ours.
The little girl sighed and smiled. I thought so, but I wasn’t sure, she said. So it doesn’t really matter that I can’t get out of bed, does it? Because even if I could walk all around the world, I would just get back here.
The grandmother bit back her tears, kissed the little girl’s forehead and left the room. That very night, the little girl died with a smile on her lips.
Her grandmother wasn’t satisfied with the answers she’d given to the little girl. If she had known that the little girl would die so soon, she thought she would have found a way to bring her into the world and show her all its marvels. She felt that by making the world seem like a small place, she had cheated the little girl out of her life. Perhaps, the grandmother thought, the little girl would have lived for many years if she’d have thought that there was something worth seeing out there. The grandmother had thought that the books the little girl read would convince her of that and would help her get stronger so that she could see the world. But the grandmother had been wrong.
It was the custom in the place where the grandmother lived to burn the loved one’s remains and keep them in an urn on the mantelpiece. But the grandmother decided that she couldn’t live out the rest of her life with the urn sitting there and reminding her of the little girl who thought the world wasn’t worth it.
Instead, the grandmother packed up some provisions into a bag, tucked the urn under her arm, and walked through the forest and into town. She walked beyond the town and into another forest and then into yet another town. She continued walking until she reached the ocean, and then she boarded a ship and sailed to the next continent.
It took her ten years, but eventually, she had walked and sailed right around the world. Hobbling home from the opposite direction of that she had started in at the very beginning, the grandmother held the urn tightly. But she was very tired, and the ground was wet with the spring rain, and she slipped and fell.
The urn smashed, and the little girl’s ashes scattered in the meadow as the wind picked them up merrily, as if greeting an old friend. The grandmother watched the gray dust that was once her granddaughter fly happily to and fro, and she smiled. There, she said to the little girl who she could suddenly see quite clearly before her. I’ve taken you right around the world and back home.

Everybody Dies

It’s an inevitable truth that everybody dies. We don’t all go in the same way. Not all of us get to live long enough. Too many of us die before our time. I say us, because humanity is a species, a world-wide animal that has taken over this planet. Doesn’t matter what you believe – in Darwin’s theories of evolution or in God creating the world in six days or the hundred other explanations people have to figure out how we got here. It doesn’t really matter why we’re here. Only that we are. And that we all die.

Some people believe in a beyond –  a heaven or a hell or something in between. Some believe that we’re all born again into a new body after we die. Some of us believe that there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, that dying is the simple end of life itself, with nothing further. Once again, it doesn’t really matter what we believe about what happens after death. Some of us may take comfort in knowing that there’s a better place that we go to. But some, maybe even many, would rather keep going with their lives as long as they can without finding out what’s awaiting.

Everybody dies. Yes. It’s a simple truth. Death is portrayed as a dark angel, a hooded figure with a sickle, a looming darkness, a white light, a sense of peace… None of us will know what death is until it happens to us. The only thing I can imagine about death is silence. Absolute silence. So still, so extremely quiet, that it’s deafening.

Why does everybody die? It’s the simple cycle of nature, or God, or Gods – whatever and whomever you want to attribute it to. Some people believe there’s a reason – a sin, or a mistake, or something that needs punishing. Some people believe there’s a reason – that a person is too good to live in this world of fear and darkness. Some people simply believe there are no reasons.

The problem is, until now, this looks like a depressing, rather scattered article about death. But is it? Really? Isn’t knowing that death is inevitable freeing somehow? It can let us live without fear, without the constant gnawing pangs of worry over what might happen to us when we fly, or cross the road, or have a surgery. I can’t say that knowing that death is waiting for us all helps when someone we love dies. It doesn’t help then, and won’t ever, because losing someone is more difficult than losing oneself, or most always is.

But in terms of each of our own personal lives – there’s a freedom to being aware of the simple truth that humans, just like all other animals, procreate and then die, leaving the world to become, hopefully, a better place.