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March 30th, 2017

Insight

Night visitor

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published June 25, 2015

  Night visitor

"Ah, my old friend," I said, "I've been looking for you."

"Yes, I know. But I seldom come by when expected. My rounds may be irregular, but I don't skip anybody."

"You're a kind of salesman then, are you?"

"Not exactly. Collecting would be more like it. No exchanges. No refunds. All transactions final. Most customers are more than satisfied with the arrangement. Especially if they've been waiting for me."

"You have a card, then?"

"No, but my Boss has one. Here --"

The card was a simple affair but elegant. The kind you might find on display in a curiosity shop or in a glass case at a museum. A souvenir of another century. It was more like an old-fashioned calling card than the kind of glossy, photoshopped business card used nowadays. As if it were waiting for someone to come along and turn down the appropriate edge in accordance with custom. There used to be a whole etiquette to it: one kind of fold for an ordinary Sunday call, for example, another for a condolence call.

The card was embossed on fine stock. Something a lady or gentleman might have left behind after paying a call but finding no one home. You don't see many of those around anymore. The print was readable, sans-serif, as if it were a slightly raised Braille.

There was no mistaking the message, or the Caller:

G0D

Frees slaves.

Call any time.

"Very handsome," said I.

"Ineffable," said my visitor. "Yet palpable. So distant yet so close. It's one of His many paradoxes."

"And your name, old friend?"

"They called me Charon when I used to hang around the River Styx hoping to pick up a fare or two as a ferryman. The Greeks were big back then. And before them, the old Hebrews, who called me Malach ha-Moves, the Angel of Death -- a grand name for a glorified messenger boy. Angels have no will of our own, you know. We just do as we're told. Any decisions about who comes, who goes, who tarries and who is evicted without notice ... that's all above my pay grade.

"Once angels were the subject of mythology and theology; now most folks walk right past me in the street without noticing. Others feel a chill wind; still others seem to recognize me for an instant before moving on. They've got places to go, things to do. I'm the last thing they think about, literally."

"And when may I expect to see you?" I asked.

My visitor gave me an angelic smile. "I have no idea," he said, "but rest assured it won't be before your time. No sense hurrying. Or delaying for that matter. It's all been arranged. To all things there is a season. Why make grand opera of it? Though some mortals do -- like your W.A. Mozart, whose "Don Giovanni" remains grand, stirring, magnificent. But you take Bach, and I did, there is a composer worthy of writing not just for this world but the next. Not beautiful at all, just sublime.

"Now and then I'll pass an old graveyard by the side of a bustling urban avenue; it's been bypassed by the city's growth long ago. No one else seems to notice it as they speed past. And there'll be an old black man there, weeding and hoeing the plots. It's his job, just as I have mine. No sense making a big fuss about it. Yet an intimation of immortality."

"I see," I said.

"Do you?" asked my night visitor. "Anyway," he added with a slight smile, "I'm glad you approve of Bach." Then he wrapped his shroud a little tighter around him on the way out the door.

"When shall we meet again?" I asked.

"There' no telling, but meet we will. You can count on it. I'll be there. Me and taxes."

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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