Why Man mustn’t Play God


I am reminded of Ian Fleming's wise words (yes, the same bloke who wrote James Bond), "you only live twice: Once you are born and once when you stare death in the face". Once upon a time, in a ransacked hut on the edge of the woods, lived a man and wife in despair. The woman had just given birth to their thirteenth child, and the growing family was quickly running out of food and money, no surprises there. The father walked into the woods to ponder their problem. After hours spent sauntering through the woods, he was confronted with two shadowy silhouettes. The first figure appeared to be the man’s God, while the second resembled the Devil. Both offered to lighten the man’s burden by acting as Godfather to his most recent child. But the man refused their proposal because he would not entrust his baby boy to those who passed judgment on human life. Thus, venturing deeper into the tangled thicket, literally. Here in the darkest part of the woods, the father discovered the third figure. This figure, peculiar with sunken eyes, stared out of its gaunt face and then suddenly broke into a crooked smile. This was Death himself, come to offer his services as Godfather. He promised to return when the child came of age, to bring him happiness and prosperity. The father, knowing that all people are equal in the eyes of Death took his offer.


Years later, when the child had grown into an ambitious young man, his skeletal Godfather came for his promised visit. In his gnarled hand, he held a flask containing the cure for all human ailments. Death had brought this flask for his Godson, promising to make him a successful doctor. But the powerful potion came with caveats. If his Godson encountered a sick person and Death was hovering at the top of their bed, the doctor could heal them with just a waft of the antidote’s fumes. But, if Death lingered at the foot of the bed, he’d already claimed the patient as his own and the doctor could do nothing for them.


In time, the doctor’s potent potion and uncanny instincts became known throughout the land. He grew rich and famous, casting off the hardships of his early life. When the king fell ill, he summoned the famous physician to treat him. The doctor swept into the palace, ready to show off his skills. But when he entered the king’s chamber, he was dismayed to see Death settled at the foot of the bed. The doctor desperately wanted the glory of saving the king, even if it meant, deceiving his Godfather. And so, he swiftly spun the bed around and reversed Death’s position, leaving the doctor free to administer the antidote. Death was livid.


He warned his arrogant Godson that if he ever cheated Death again, he would pay for it with his life. Death and the doctor continued their travels. After some time, the king’s messengers came to collect the doctor yet again. The princess was gravely ill, and the king had promised incredible riches to anyone who could cure her. The doctor approached the princesses’ chamber with the hunger of gold in his eyes. But upon seeing the sleeping princess, his greed fell away. He was so struck by her grace, that he failed to notice Death lurking by her feet. He swiftly healed the princess, but before she could even utter her thanks, Death had dragged his lovesick Godson away.


In an instant, the palace dissolved around them. The doctor found himself in an immense cave lined with countless quivering candles, each representing the duration of a life. As punishment for his Godson’s foolish attempt to master mortality, Death whittled his candle down to its wick. Seeing his dwindling light, the doctor felt the fear he’d often glimpsed in his patients’ eyes. Desperately, he begged Death to transfer his dying light onto a new candle. His Godfather considered the request but the doctor’s betrayal was too great. He loosened his bony grip, and his Godson’s candle fell to the floor. Death stood motionless, his inscrutable face fixed on the sputtering flame until all that was left of the doctor was a wisp of smoke.