High in the cedar tree Becca peered through its fragrant branches into the endless blue sky. The birds flittered from perch to perch unaware of her presence. She became one with the tree, part of its stillness. She was far removed from the angst of her human existence, but not her thoughts. Why had God made her a little girl and not a flower, or a tree or flying angel of the sky? Why had He made her soul so tender and deep with sorrow?
She had been sent this way. She knew no other way. Little spouts of joy escaped from nature which she absorbed, but her soul was such a vast valley of sorrow that nothing filled it and the shadow of Death dwelled there. She knew him intimately, Death, the Stealer of joy, the Great Illusionist of separation, the Magician who could make you disappear from your body. He left a deep darkened pain in his wake. She knew this because Death had visited her six year old cousin Jannie, leaving behind her grief stricken parents, with the Great Sorrow that seeped into and saturated the very fibers of the walls of their house. The emptiness was huge; she could feel the emptiness that the loss of Jannie left behind. It was so loud that emptiness that it was deafening.
Yes, she knew Death, she did not like him. And she imagined in her anger he wasn’t too fond of her either. She believed it was a mutual animosity, big words for a little mouth, but such things needed big words. Because she knew that words could blow away in the wind and their meanings be lost forever, tumbling on the air currents, never landing in the right places and causing all kinds of troubles for those who spoke them. Yes, words needed to be weighted down with emotion so they wouldn’t float away. If they were not strong enough they would only add to her pain, and she needed to be strong.
In was in that cedar tree she met Death for the second time. The first time he had not spoken to her, he was walking through her dreams leading Jannie up a crystalline staircase. Her cousin had not spoken either, but instead had looked directly at her and smiled then turned and started her ascension. Death had also looked directly at Becca and smiled. It was not a cruel smile but a slightly sad one. The next morning, Becca’s mother had told her what she already knew in her heart, her cousin had died that very night in her sleep.
Death wasn’t ugly; in fact he was quite handsome with deep set brown eyes that sparkled. His hair was the color of the raven’s wings with iridescent hues of blues and purples when the sunlight shone on it. His skin was flawless, creamy olive. His nose aquiline and his lips a faded shade of pink like a weary summer rose, thin but not cruel. He wore a cloak of the deepest blue, not black as one would think. This was the vast blue of the universe, the color that surrounded the stars in the night, the contrast that gave them their beauty.
Now he hovered near the cedar tree. Becca saw no wings, but knew they must be somewhere, one cannot fly without wings. He smiled kindly at her, she bristled. “What do you want?” she sparked, her fear sneaking up to peek and then submerging again.
“I don’t like you!” she blurted out. “Why don’t you just go away?” She was mad now; he had invaded her sacred place of quietude on the top of the cedar tree, her special place that no one knew about.
“If you would like, I will go away,” he began. His words were like rain, not cold almost snow rain that aches your bones, but warm spring rain, the kind you don’t mind.
“Good, then, go away!” she demanded, but her emotions deceived her, she was curious, her animosity had softened.
“Are you quite sure? I thought you wanted to talk to me,” he offered. Again the warm wetness of his word lingered in the air making small puffs of mist. She watched the mist for a moment; it hovered as he did and then slowly dissolved into nothing.
“What would I ask such a wicked being? You are mean! You stole my cousin…” she began to weep. There in the treetop, she rocked and wept and the tree swayed trying to comfort her. The birds even quieted knowing the sound of a heart’s longing. Death watched her patiently, knowing once the soul shed its tears the child would speak.
After sometime her tears became a whimper, and then the whimper a solemn silence. She looked into Death’s eyes unafraid and said, “Why are you here? Am I going to die?” Her innocence sent a shudder through her small body and she clung to the tree.
“Not today, my child. Everyone dies, you know this. Everyone is sent back to hence they came, but you and I have much work to do before you go back,” Death explained.
Her courage returning she demanded, “Why did Jannie have to die? What did she ever do to you?”
“It was her time, that is all. I do not choose the time, that is His plan.”
“Plan? Whose plan?”
“God. I work for God, and so do you.”
“Well that was a stupid plan, she was only six! Who makes up such a stupid plan! God is stupid! And you’re stupid if you think I work for him, I am only a kid, I don’t work!” she spoke angrily without fear, she didn’t care who he thought he was. She had seen it before, grown-ups could be so stupid! They did stupid things and then claimed it was okay because they were grown-ups! And here was this hovering being with absorbing eyes telling her that God had stupid plans! She hugged closer into the tree.
“When you don’t understand something, it may appear, as you say, stupid, but I can assure you God does not make mistakes.”
“Everybody makes mistakes; even my Mom told me that. So this is God’s first one, he should have never taken my cousin, she was only six!”
“Yes, but her body didn’t work anymore and she was suffering. Would you have rather had her stay and continued to suffer? Now she is in a place of no suffering, a place of timeless beauty.”
“If he’s God why didn’t he just fix her and let her stay? I miss her…” she trailed off.
“I cannot answer that, I do not know why it is someone’s time to return. I know you miss her, but you must know she still feels your love, those bonds are never broken. Here, let me show you something,” he pointed upward. Becca looked into the sky and saw swirling orbs of light floating upward.
“What are those?” she asked in amazement.
“Those are prayers of love people send to their loved ones, they cross over and the spirit on the otherside receives them.”
“Wow, really?” Becca wiped a sniffled from her nose. Her dirty face streaked through the tears. “Can I send one to Jannie?”
“You have many times before, but yes, close your eyes and think of her and send her your love and your blessings and watch.”
She closed her eyes and thought of her cousin and her heart welled up with love. She whispered a little prayer, a wish almost and opened her eyes. Out from her heart center an orb of golden light formed and began to float upward. She watched it as one watches after releasing a helium balloon, until it was a speck in the sky. “When will she get it?”
“Soon. So you see, you can still communicate with her. It is a good thing to do, to pray for the departed. It helps them,” he explained.
She looked at his face; it was smooth and beardless, unlike her father’s face. “How old are you?” she asked off handedly.
He laughed, it was odd to hear Death laugh, it sounded rich and warm and unexpected. “I don’t really know, you are the first to ask such. All that I can tell you is that I am as old as the creation of man.”
“Oh, then you’re real old, but you don’t look like it!” She became suspicious, “How can that be? You should be wrinkly and boney!”
“But I am not human, I have no bones or skin to wrinkle,” he offered.
“Then what are you made of?”
“Light,” he said simply. “I must go now, but I will be back. You and I have work to do.”
She cringed, “I don’t want to work with you! I don’t want to kill people! I hate you! Go away!”
He smiled sadly, “I don’t kill people. God anoints the time of passing; I am just the Shepherd’s helper. I am only an Angel of Death, I do not hurt people, I guide them. You will understand one day. You will come to understand me.” He held her gaze and watched her defiant five year old face refuse to acknowledge this. He laughed warmly again and said, “Do not fret little one. Your Jannie is safe in God’s Country. And you and I will become friends. Goodbye for now.”
He made a slight bow, almost Shakespearean in nature, careful not to touch the girl. Their worlds could not collide just yet.
As much as Becca was relieved to see him leaving she had just one more important question. “Wait! What’s your name?”
He gazed upon the girl and spoke, “I am the Angel of Death, whom helps God. I have been called many names by many tongues in many lands. You may call me Azrael.”
“Azrael?” saying the unfamiliar combination of sounds made the child giggle. She smiled at the Angel of Death. He smiled back and then suddenly a warm gust of wind swayed the cedar and Becca clung deeper into the trunk. When she looked back the Angel of Death was gone.