The End of the Trail

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    And finally we come to the grand paradox of human life. Having learned to face life, we must also face the prospect of its end. We learn to project ourselves into "the" future only to discover that our personal song must cease. Or so it seems.

    One day, many years ago, an old Arab fisherman lay dying. His children, all grown, lived far away and his wife had died some years before. Now he lay alone, wracked with pain. The angel of death, whether through malice or clumsiness, was prolonging the manís passing from this world. His body ruined by years of hard labor, the fisherman could only look through tears of suffering at the single little lamp that illuminated his small dark room.

    The oil was almost depleted and the flame was small. But then the feeble flame began to grow and to turn blue. White smoke emanated from it and stepped down to the floor as it took the form of a handsome young man.

    "By Allahís gracious leave, we meet again," the jinni said as he knelt by the fishermanís bed.

    "Yes," the fisherman said, wincing as a bolt of pain shot through him. "I remember you. How have you fared?"

    "Well," the jinni said. "But we can talk more about my life later. For now we must not dally. There is a matter of unfinished business between us. Perhaps you recall to mind a memory of a promise I once made to kill you?"

    "I do," the fisherman said, "but it is accompanied by a memory of the vow that you made in the Most High Name that you would never do me any hurt or harm."

    "Yes," the jinni said. "That vow was a cap upon my earlier promise that trapped it as that leaden cap bearing the seal of Sulayman (May Allahís Peace ever be upon him!) trapped me within the brass jar. But now you are dying in agony and there is no hurt or harm that I can do to you, so my vow is no longer a barrier to the fulfillment of my earlier promise. I can bring death quickly, if you wish."

    "Anything that would end this pain," the fisherman said, "would be a welcome gift, my friend."

    "So be it," the jinni said. "May you reawaken in Paradise, InshAllah!" he said as he reached out to the fisherman.

    "And may Allah grant that we meet again," the fisherman said as the jinniís hand touched his heart. All pain ceased then and the fisherman lay still.

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    So does the song end there? Or may we, like the fisherman, entertain the hope of awakening in some other world after we die? Any effort to answer those questions would take us far beyond the scope of this study. In any case, as death approaches we must set this world at nought, relinquish all of our ties to it, and set ourselves adrift, ready to face either Oblivion or ∆ternity.

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