The old house became a comfortable place for me since the old man left. I explored the rooms and found many books, art, and antiques. Since this is death, I have to assume what I saw will be different for everyone else. This being alone has been needed. I didn’t realize just how much I needed it. Because death, apparently, isn’t the great void of loneliness and non-existence.
For this moment, I sit on the porch. This seems to be my favorite place. I watch the shadows dance and twirl beyond me. It is easy for me to contemplate them.
I see a figure in the darkness, almost prancing toward the house. It appears to be… It is! “You thought I was gone forever, didn’t you?” the old man calls out.
We meet at the bottom of the porch steps and embrace. “I didn’t think I would see you again,” I said.
He smiles and leads me up the steps. We sit in the rockers. “My acceptance allows me to come and go as I please. This place just happens to be my favorite one so far, so I thought I would come back and see if you were still here.”
“I can see why you love it,” I respond. “I have come to a place where I could stay here forever, but then I don’t have to, either.”
Looking out into the shadows, they seem to brighten or dissipate. I look at him and back to the darkness. “Dawn?”
He smiles. “Depends. Definitely twilight. I need to tell you the story of how I came to be here. Of how I died.”
I’m taken aback. “Okay. Is it relevant? I mean, is it something that I need to know?”
His crystalline blue eyes turn watery. “Yes.”
I settle more fully into my chair. “Okay, then. Enlighten me. This whole journey has been about enlightening stories told to help me move on.”
Again, he smiled. “I don’t know if this will help you, but I think it will help me.
“There was a time when I was much beloved. People who didn’t even know me loved me. All of the love in the world couldn’t save me. You see, I was gravely ill. I kept it from everyone. I simply could not allow their love to turn to pity. We all know that feeling, that look we give those who do not have a chance.
“For months I struggled with my diagnosis, my fate. My family did everything they could to encourage me to keep living. This illness became me. The end of the illness became me. I surrendered. I surrendered to the illness. I surrendered to my fate. I surrendered to my own fragile mortality.”
I look into the old man’s eyes. They are sad, but resolved. “Did you stop living?” I ask.
He smiles at me. “No. My last few months, I lived more and lived better than I had in years. I loved my family with a fierceness. I loved my friends with abandon. I chose to live, even as I accepted my mortality, illness, and ultimate fate.
“When my symptoms began to worsen, I chose my own end. My strength and will to live came directly from my ability to choose my own end or let my disease take its course.”
“You committed suicide?”
He nods. “I did. I hanged myself.”
I blink. Confused. “How was that a better choice? You left your family and friends confused and hurting. I’m sure they could have given you comfort and hope.”
He shakes his head. “No, there was no hope for me. There was no stopping the progression of the disease. They would have watched me turn into a vegetable with zero control over myself. I could not be a burden on them. Instead, I accepted my fate, my vulnerability, my. . . Ending.”
“Why?” I ask. “Why not fight?”
“I could not waste my energy on fighting a war I could not win,” he says. “Sometimes it is better to live to fight another day. In my case, it is better to die by my own hand with dignity than to let time take everything away from me.”
I shake my head. “What’s the lesson in all of this? Sometimes acceptance is the only answer? Sometimes the Fates deal us such a terrible hand that we need just surrender to the experience?”
He smiles, his eyes still sad. “Yes. Have you not accepted that this house may be where you stay for ever?”
“I have,” I respond. “Yet, I know that I will leave when the time is right. I’m at peace with it.”
His sad eyes begin to sparkle. “So, you are at peace with whatever future the Fates weave for you?”
As we have this conversation, the sky is turning from black to purple to the pink and orange of sunrise. “Yes, I am at peace with however long I need to be in this place.”
“That is the lesson in all of this,” he says triumphantly. “In finding inner peace, one does not need to be attached to a particular outcome to a situation, but can see the virtue in all of the outcomes.”
The words click. The sun rises. It all makes sense. The old man smiles. “You have your sunrise. You have made it through your longest night. Now, you may leave this house if you so choose.”
I stand with a crooked smile on my face. The old man and I embrace. “Thank you,” I say. “Thank you for leaving me here and thank you for coming back.”
He laughs. “You’re welcome,” he whispers. “Now, you need to go while there is light. So much of this journey is taken in darkness.”
I walk down the stairs of the porch and down the path to the edge of the woods. I turn around and wave to my new friend. He waves back with a hearty laugh.