Note: While writing a new book on the afterlife, (Life After Death: The Burden of Proof) I kept being drawn back to stories that I'd heard in India as a child. In these stories the abstract issues of death, immortality, and eternity acquire a human face as ordinary people confronted the mystery of death. I hoped that reader will be intrigued by a world where heroes battle darkness in order to emerge into the light.
In this case the hero is a woman named Savitri, and the enemy she must defeat is Yama, the lord of death. Yama shows up in her front yard one day, waiting to take away her husband the moment he returns from his work as a woodcutter. Will she succeed? What strategy can possibly turn Death away from his inexorable mission?
Part 11 (Begin at part 1 by clicking here)
“Have I learned enough now?” Savitri asked. She was beginning to change, she could feel it. Many things she once thought were real now seemed like phantoms, while the most real things were invisible.
“I think so,” said Ramana. “Go home.”
“Will you come with me?”
He shook his head, smiling. “I wouldn’t want to scare Yama to death.”
Savitri’s heart skipped a beat. “But how do I get back? I don’t know where I am.”
“Or so you imagine.” Ramana pointed into the darkest part of the forest, and Savitri saw a swarm of lights that might have been fireflies, only it was mid-afternoon. Ramana nodded toward them. She felt anxious.
He said, “I know you think I won’t be with you. Another bit of imagination.” Seeing her reluctance, Ramana bowed his head and turned. “Everything will be as it will be.”
Startled, Savitri remembered that those were Yama’s exact words to her. What could she do? She lingered for a moment until Ramana’s form disappeared into the heart of the forest. Then she walked toward the hovering lights. They grew larger, and she knew she was seeing a band of devas. A deva is the same as an angel, but it can also be a nature spirit.
“Who are you?” she asked. “Are you tree devas?” In India, devas penetrate every level of nature to build, guard, and infuse it with life.
But instead of answering, the lights darted away from her. Savitri had the distinct feeling that they were afraid of her. In her gentlest voice she bade them to come back. One of the lights said, "Why should we when all you want to do is kill us?" The voice was not outside Savitri’s head, but inside.
Savitri was shocked. “Kill you? I would never do such a thing.”
The light replied, "You are doing it right now. We are the devas assigned to you, yet look how far away and feeble we are."
Savitri said, “Tell me how I did this, because if I ever needed you, it’s at this moment.”
The light said, "You have been full of secret sorrow. You are anxious about death. You think nothing of us, and you never call upon us. That’s how you are trying to kill us."
Savitri had never thought of devas that way, that they needed attention. But she could see now how she was affecting the devas, because the mention of death drew her mind back to fear, and at that moment the lights grew smaller and dimmer.
She exclaimed, “Wait! Don’t let me kill you.”
To which the light replied, "You can’t. We are immortal. The danger isn’t that you can really hurt us but that you have broken our connection. We need your love and attention, and in return we will help you."
"Through inspiration. We bring messages. We can let you see us, as you do now, and that will help you believe in your place in the divine plan."
“Is it in the divine plan for Satyavan to die?” Savitri asked. For a few moments the devas had been coming closer, but now they scattered and moved away from her. She caught herself and took a deep breath, asking for hope and courage. The lights cautiously drew closer.
"The divine plan is life itself. It includes all creatures in their proper place. The proper place for humans is first, in eternity and second, here on earth. Death, like the pause between two breaths, is how you cross from one home to the other."
“Ah, so that’s the message you have for me,” Savitri said.
She felt a rush of gratitude, which brought the lights even closer. They began to gleam, lighting the way. Savitri knew she wasn’t lost. In fact, her hut was close by, and with determined steps, led by a flickering host of lights, she headed there.