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Friday, 16 July 2021

Death as Godfather

A poor man had twelve children, and had to work day and night just to be able to give them dry bread. When the thirteenth came into the world, he no longer knew how to provide for himself in his need, so he ran out to ask the first and best who met him to be the child’s godfather.

The first to meet him was gracious God, who already knew what was on his mind, and said to him, “You poor man; I feel for you. I shall carry your child to baptism and take care of it so that it may be happy on earth.”

The man replied, “Who are you?”

“I am the Lord God.”

“I do not want you to be godfather, for you give to the rich and starve the poor.” The man spoke thus because he did not know how wisely God distributes wealth and poverty on earth.

He turned away from God and walked on.

Then the devil met him and said, “What do you seek? I am the your child’s godfather, and I shall give it gold and all the glories of the world.”

The man asked, “Who are you?”

“I am the Devil.”

“Then I do not want you to be godfather, for you deceive and seduce mankind.”

And he walked on.

Then death staggered to meet him and said, “Take me as godfather.”

“Who are you?” asked the man.

“I am death who makes everyone equal.”

Then the man said, “You are the right one; you fetch the rich and the poor without distinction, you must be the godfather.”

Death replied, “I shall make your child rich and famous in the world; he who has me as a friend shall lack nothing.”

So the man said, “My son shall be baptized next Sunday; make sure you come at the right time.”

Death came, as he had promised, and carried the child to baptism.

As the boy began to grow up, his godfather once came to him, took him out into the forest, and when they were all alone, said: “Now you must receive your godfather’s gift. I am making you a famous physician. When you are called to someone who is sick, I shall always show myself to you. If I stand at the patient’s feet, then say boldly that you shall make him well again. Then just give him a certain herb, which I will show you, and he shall recover his health. If, on the other hand, I stand by the patient’s head, then he is mine, and you shall say that all help is in vain, that he must die.” Then death showed him the herb and said, “Beware of using it against my will!”

It was not long before the physician was famous across the world. “He merely has to look at the sick, before he knows whether they shall recover or die.” Such was his name that folk came from far and wide to fetch him, and gave him as much money as he demanded, so that soon he possessed great wealth.

Now, eventually it happened that the king also fell ill. They then sent word for the famous physician to attend, and determine whether or not the king should die. As soon as the physician approached his bed, he saw death standing at the patient’s head, meaning that no help would prevail.

But the physician thought to himself: “Perhaps you can trick death; he won’t take it so badly, since he’s your godfather.” Then he took and turned the king around in his bed, so that death came to stand at his feet, and gave him some of the herb, whereupon the king recovered his health.

But death now came to the physician, put on a very grave face, and said: “This time it must be forgiven you, for I am your godfather, but if you take it upon yourself to deceive me once again, then it shall be upon your own head.”

Shortly afterwards, the king’s daughter fell ill, and no one could help her. The old king wept day and night until he was close to going blind. At length he announced that whosoever could save her from death would receive her hand as a reward, and inherit the crown.

Our physician attended too, and death stood by her head. And when the physician beheld the beauty of the king’s daughter, and considered the king’s promise, he forgot all warnings, and ignoring death’s terrible glare upon him, he turned the patient around and gave her some of the herb so that she began to recover.

When death saw himself cheated of his property a second time, he went to the physician and said, “Now you shall come with me, friend!” Then he grasped him with his icy hand and led him to an underground cave, where many thousands of candles burned in innumerable rows. Some were long, some half-long, and some short. Every moment some were extinguished and others lit, so that the flames seemed to jump here and there.

“You see,” said death, “these are the candles of human lives. The long ones belong to children, the half-long to married folk in their best years, the short ones belong to old folk; however, children and young folk also often have but short candles. If they burn out, then their lives are over, and they belong to me.”

The physician said, “Show me my candle, now!”

Then death pointed at a very short stump that was just about to go out, and said, “Do you see?”

The physician was horrified, and said: “Oh my dear godfather, light a new one for me, so that I may first enjoy my life, become king and the husband of the beautiful king’s daughter!”

“I cannot,” replied death. “One must first be extinguished before a new one is lit.”

“Then put the old on a new one, which can burn immediately when it’s over,” said the physician.

Then death feigned to fulfill his wish and brought forth a new, long candle. But as he was to put it underneath the old one, he fumbled – in order to take revenge – and the old piece fell down and went out. Then the physician also sank, and fell into the hands of death himself, for he had abused the gift entrusted to him.

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