When my father was eight years old, his country turned inward on itself.
He lived on the Green Line, the barrier of earth and grass that split the city of Beirut in half. The city destroyed itself in a fit of madness and rage. He saw his father shot walking across the street for bread. He watched his friends and neighbors drop in the street. He could do nothing to stop the steeds of War and Death from charging through his home, leaving only destruction in its wake.
I wonder about Azrael.
The Angel of Death does not kill people. In the Muslim tradition, only God knows when and where each and every individual will die; all Azrael does is lead souls to the afterlife once they’ve been separated from their bodies. He has no free will, no choice. This is the duty he must perform.
What must it feel like to be a Spectre, an Angel of Death? If we could speak to Azrael, what would he tell us?
What was it like for him when my father was eight years old, and the Angel with four faces and four thousand wings had to walk through the streets of the Middle Eastern Switzerland, picking up the remnants of the Apocalypse?
What was it like for him today, in Newtown, Connecticut?
I could never be him. I could never sit and watch souls so young, so fragile, so fresh to this world, barely touched by the hand of life, suddenly be ripped from their bodies and left for me to collect.
God is said to know when and where each and every person born to this Earth will die, and even knowing this, even as Azrael, knowing tens or hundreds of years in advance where I’ll have to go next, knowing who I’ll have to collect when, it still does not feel right.
To have that knowledge of these events and be able to do nothing to stop them does not sit well with me.
No one should be fated to die.
This is, perhaps, the chief reason I cannot bring myself to believe in fate: to accept that this world has a plan for you, regardless of your actions, is abominable. Why should some of us live forever while others have their end of days decided for them? Why should the innocent lose their families while the guilty never die? We don’t like what has happened, yet we convince ourselves that there is a reason for why these events happen.
What reason is there for this?
It’s hard to believe that sisters and daughters, brothers and sons dying, children taken from the Earth, workplaces destroyed, homes wrecked, forces of nature tearing the ground asunder, could all possibly be part of some cosmic scheme.
Maybe there is a plan. Maybe there is a need for pain and evil in the world, if for no other reason than because the onset of darkness is always counterbalanced by the emergence of light from within. This is the justification people give for the Holocaust and why, were we to travel back in time, not one of us would kill Adolf Hitler or stop his actions from occurring: the atrocities of the Third Reich were so great in scope and power that the rest of the world recoiled in shock, yes, but more importantly, had they not happened, someone else would have performed actions just as terrible, if not worse. Humanity, for the most part, learned its lesson, a lesson that would not have been learned had these events not happened.
This is the justification we give.
This does not make the events any less heinous, any less painful.
From the heart of darkness always emerges a ray of light, and people choose to console themselves by believing in the light, praying that the light will come. Perhaps it will.
Perhaps there may even be something good we can take away from today. Perhaps.
I was reminded of my mortality today. It’s humbling, being reminded that your world can end tomorrow. Every arbitrary number of seconds, another person takes the hand of Azrael and is led away from this world, whether that person wants to leave or not, whether Azrael wants to take them or not.
Were I the Angel of Death, I would renounce my position at once. I have nothing but respect for the Spectre: it takes a powerful will and strong heart to have to perform the world’ most depressing job until the end of time.
Which is why, dear readers, I address you now in joining me:
Take one moment, one minute, out of your day right now, for yourselves, for me.
And send out your heart.
Send your heart to Newtown, to the children and the teachers taken from the world today.
Send your heart to Beirut, to my father’s people who no longer walk among us.
Send your heart to the ones you lost, to those who cannot speak.
Send your heart around the world. Give your heart, in this moment of silence, to Azrael, so he may know you pray for every life lost, every breath stolen, every soul departed.
And thank him for bearing this back-breaking burden.
We were reminded today why every moment is important, why any minute could be our last. We were reminded today why every last second must be lived to its absolute fullest.
So, when you have taken your moment of silence, go. Find your family, find your friends. Tell them you love them. Tell them you care. Laugh together, cry together. Live together. Die together.
And should Azrael come knocking on your door, don’t be afraid to ask him to come back tomorrow. No one is fated to die, and he might just understand.
Thank you, World, for sharing this with me.
Thank you, Spectre, for carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Thank you, Love, for keeping hearts invincible, no matter how fragile the body may be.