Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.
– Norman Cousins
It happened in an Arabic story that a king dreamed in the night that somebody – a very dark shadow – was standing behind him. Naturally, he became afraid.
He turned back and asked the shadow, “Who are you? And what are you doing here?”
The shadow said, “I am your death. But you are no ordinary human being, you are a great emperor; I thought it proper to inform you beforehand. If you have to finish any work, finish it. And get ready and meet me at the right place: Tomorrow evening, at the time when the sunsets!”
The answer was so shocking that the king found himself trembling with fear, and awoke. The dream disappeared. He tried many times to close his eyes and to see the shadow again, because he had forgotten to ask what he means – rightly dressed, at the right place.
“If I had asked about these two things, I would not do these two things particularly. The right place I would avoid, the right preparation I would avoid, and that way death could not destroy me.” But it was too late. Howsoever hard he tried by closing his eyes, the shadow never appeared. He became more and more afraid.
As the sun was rising, he told his old servant, who was almost like a father to him, about the dream. The king said, ”I don’t understand what to do; and the time is not much, only twelve hours. The sun has already come upon the horizon; soon it will be evening.” One of his ministers suggested to him, “Call all the astrologers and all the wise men, saints, holy men, and inquire – perhaps somebody may give you the right advice.”
So people were brought from the whole capital. They came with their big scriptures, and there was much argumentation amongst them. One astrologer was saying one thing, another was saying another. One wise man was for one thing, another wise man was for something else. The king became even more puzzled. And it was getting to be almost midday; half the day they have been just consulting their scriptures and arguing.
He told the old man, his servant, “Their argumentation will not end ever, it seems. They are quarreling and I don’t think they can come to a conclusion.”
The old man said, “I knew it before, but because your minister had suggested it and I am a poor servant, I remained silent. These people have been arguing for centuries.” These philosophers, wise men, astrologers – they have been arguing for centuries and they have not come to a single conclusion. I do not hope, I cannot hope that within the remaining small period of time they will come to any conclusion.
“My suggestion is, take your fastest horse and escape from this place at least, because death appeared in this palace, in this capital of yours. Go any direction. There is a possibility you may miss the right place.”
The Old man’s arguments appeared relevant. The king took his fastest horse and just started running away from the palace, from the capital, as fast as he could. He did not even stop to drink water on the way or to eat food.
When death is so close, who feels hungry? Who feels thirsty? The question was to get as far away as he could reach by sunset – the further the better. And by sunset he had ridden hundreds of miles away. As the sun was setting, he tied his horse to a tree in a garden outside some unknown city, and he patted his horse and said, ”You are really great! You ran so fast – I have never seen you running so fast. I am immensely grateful to you.”
Just at that moment the black shadow appeared behind him. The king looked back; the shadow laughed and said, “Your horse is really fast. I was worried whether he was going to reach the right place or not, but he managed! This is the tree, and this is the time. The sun is setting and I am immensely grateful, just as you are grateful – more than you are. I am grateful to your horse; he has brought you to the right place.”
“In fact I never give notices to people I had to give you the notice because this is Damishk – it is hundreds of miles away from your capital, and I was worried how you would manage to reach Damishk, under a certain tree where at sunset your death has to happen. That’s why I gave you the notice.”
Wherever you run, whatever you do, whatever your speed of running, one thing is certain about which you will not have to hesitate, and that is death. But at that moment when death occurs, you will go crying, weeping because you missed your whole life in hesitating.
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.
– Mark Twain