The Deathless Land

Dear friends,

Once there was a youth named Peter, who had heard the tale of a secret land, the land where no one dies. He repeated this story to his family, but all of them—not just his parents and siblings, but aunts, uncles, and cousins too—told him that it was a silly tale, and that no such deathless land could exist. This did not discourage Peter, in fact he became determined to find this land where no one dies. The next day, he set out in the wide world to search for it.

Peter walked across valleys and hills, through numerous cities and towns, asking everyone he met if they had heard of the land where no one dies. But no one had heard of such a place, except for some elders who said it might have existed long ago, somewhere in the west, so Peter continued westward. After many months he came across an old man of enormous strength, who was carting away stones. Peter called to him, asking if he knew of the land where no one dies. The vigorous man stopped for a moment, resting on his cart to say, “Listen, stay with me while I move this mountain stone by stone. As long as you do, you will not die.”

“How long will it take?” asked Peter.

“One hundred years.”

“And after that, I will die?”

“It must me so.”

“That won’t do for me, then. I hope to find the land where no one dies.” said Peter, and he continued on his way.

Soon Peter came upon a forest that stretched in every direction. Within the forest was a old man trimming trees, pruning away left and right, neatly stacking branches all the while. Peter called to him, asking if he knew of the land where no one dies. The artful man paused his work and replied, “Stay with me as I prune this forest, and as long as you do, you will not die.”

“How long will it take?” asked Peter.

“Two hundred years, maybe.”

“And after that, I will die?”

“Certainly. Isn’t that long enough?”

“I’m afraid that won’t do for me. I hope to find the land where no one dies.”

Peter continued onward, finding himself at the edge of a calm sea. There an old man sat, appearing lost in thought. He called to the old man, asking if he knew of the land where no one dies. The contemplative man answered, “See that duck, young man? Stay with me, and until the duck has gulped this sea dry with his beak, you shall not die.”

“How long will it take?” asked Peter.

“Perhaps three hundred years.”

“And after that, I will die?”

“Of course. How many more years would you want to escape it?”

“Forever, if I can, for I hope to find the land where no one dies.” said Peter, and he continued his search.

Not long after Peter came across a beautiful palace in the countryside. When he knocked on the enormous door, it opened to reveal a very small old man. “Excuse me,” said Peter, “But could you direct me to the land where no one dies?”

“As it happens, you’ve found it!” said the diminutive man. “Please come in, and stay as long as you like.”

Peter was pleased at discovering his long-sought land. There he lived like a lord, for flocks of servants attended him, and the palace storehouse overflowed with meats and honeywine. Many years passed in unhurried content. But after a long or a short while, Peter grew restless and wondered how his relatives were prospering. He asked the little old man if there might be a way to pay them a visit. The old man looked puzzled, but said that if he took the white horse from the stables, he could travel away from the palace safely to see his home town. But he could not dismount, for if he did he would die in an instant.

Out in the wide world again, Peter galloped past where the sea used to be, only now it was a dry plains, with no sign of man or duck. He galloped past where the forest once was, but not a tree was in sight, only a pruning hook that lay beside some bones. He galloped past where the mountain once was, but now it stretched level in all directions, with a road built through it. At last he arrived at his home town, but could scarcely recognize a single building. He could not find his old house, or even his old street, and though he asked many people, none had heard of his family name. Dismayed, he decided to return to the old man’s palace.

On the way back, he came across a peasant carrying tattered shoes in a cart, with a cartwheel stuck in the mud. The peasant called to Peter, “Young man, help me with this wheel, would you?”

“I can’t,” replied Peter, “I’m in a hurry, and can’t leave my saddle.”

“Please help me, I’m all alone and I’ve been stuck in this mud some time now. Soon it will be night.”

Moved by human kindness, Peter was compelled to dismount, but as soon as his foot touched the ground the old man grabbed his wrist. “At last!” he shrieked, “Recognize me? I am Death himself! Do you see all these shoes? They are the pairs I have used up, toiling about, searching the earth for you! But now, at long last, we can both sleep.”

And so clutched by Death, Peter had to perish after all.

~ ~ ~

Tales of seeking immortality are very old, though in almost all of them Death seems to find the upper hand. The most surprising thing about them may be how rare—despite our intellectual advances—such quests are today.

My first child was born this Tuesday, and I keep thinking of a somewhat related sentiment, when Diotima shared her wisdom with Socrates, saying that the deathless gods granted us reproduction so that we may have our own means of immortality. New life is a divine thing, “for conception and generation are an immortal principle in the mortal creature.”

Love bids you welcome, Luca Marin Sarris.

s s

The painting at the beginning is by Thomas Cole