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Love or Laughter

“The choice is love or laughter.”
And he leaves me by the gates,
One short smile and this advice
And he absquatulates:
“Choose honestly, choose carefully,
Think your reasons through,
And give your ear to no one here,
They know no more than you.”

I frown, perplexed and worried,
With my last acquaintance gone.
My weakened knees and sinking heart
Sit me upon a stone.
I wipe my brow and wonder how
I thought all this would be.
Utopia, Dystopia,
A void, or clarity.

The sun is warm upon this rock,
The air is softly scented,
I breathe out my bewilderment,
Relax and am contented.
My eyes now focus in the light,
I find I’m not alone:
See people sitting on the grass,
But no one that I’ve known.

My gaze it rests upon a man,
His kind face framed with grey,
Whose eyes are filled with friendly lights
Which dance like starts at play.
“You cannot fear the reaper now”
A wink and then a grin.
I laugh aloud and then am cowed;
The gates start opening.

“I’m still not sure,” he shakes his head,
“It’s laughter that I’ve chose.”
And with a cotton-muffled sigh
Once more the gates swing closed.
“And now, my friend” the smile says,
Prompts a playful star,
“I’m certain that you’re wondering
Whereabouts you are.

“First of all I’ve this to say:”,
His voice is kind and clear,
“We only lie when we’re afraid,
And what has Death to fear?”
I frown a moment, then he smiles,
“What he said is true,
Although I’ve been here for a while,
I know no more than you.”

“It’s no use asking” shuts my mouth
Halfway into ‘long’,
“Time and years mean nothing here,
And nor do right and wrong.”
He pauses now in sympathy
And smiles as I leap
From on the cliff of knowledge
To the blue sky of belief.

My hesitation over,
I leap and understand,
Rise from my gently sun-warmed rock
And offer him my hand.
I help my friend to gain his feet,
Brush my hands upon my jeans,
And see his shirt is rudely cut
With leather cord-stitched seams.

I wonder, walking, if we talked
In English just for me,
Or if it seemed to him I spoke
In Celtic fluently.
I half decide to ask of him
What tongue he used on Earth
But then this thought: If time is naught
What then is language worth?

“So, back to love or laughter…”,
The rejoinder in my voice,
“You’ve been here near three thousand years
And still not made your choice?”
He briefly strokes his iron beard,
Clasps hands behind his waist,
Then chuckles and looks up at me,
“There seems no call for haste.”

I nod my eyes back to the ground
And walk a while more,
Then pose another question
Which bothered me before:
“A hooded Reaper brought me here
And left me by the gates,
Did the same conduct you here
Where this strange choice awaits?”

Sparkling stars and sympathy:
“I walked into this land.”
Crystal clear to him as me
That I don’t understand.
“In this place to each his own,
And to each what he knew,
You best believed the Reaper,
So the Reaper came for you.”

“How then that you knew his name
If you walked here alone?”
“Time itself is useless, yes,
But experience has shown
A whole host of apparitions:
Yama, Izanaki,
I’ve seen the works.” And here he smirks,
“I’ve seen Azrael in khaki.”

I’m taken back by this attack
Of kind-intentioned jest,
But leap once more and likewise soar,
And take the joke in earnest.
Another while we walk and smile
And reach a river wide.
We both sit down and look around
And I ask of my guide:

“And what of all the others here?
Have they not made their mind?”
He meets my eyes and softly sighs,
His voice wearied but kind.
“There are but two who linger here,
The doubtful and the free.”
I feel now my furrowed brow:
“What of the cowardly?”

I see his eyes show faint surprise,
He taps his cushioned cheek.
“What of those who fear the strange,
The cowardly and meek?”
“Love and laughter is no choice
Which men have need to fear,
Unless they fear the choice itself,
And hold their freedom dear.”

Here he pauses for a moment
And smiles at the scene,
Then swallows gently, picks some grass,
And continues on his theme:
“I’ve thought about this many times
And this is what I’ve come to,
But bear in mind the Reaper said
I know no more than you do:

“I’ve heard this place called many things,
Purgatory, Limbo,
I call it the Otherworld,
Or merely ‘where the dead go’.
As to what we’re doing here…
You know as well as me:
The choice of love or laughter,
The choice of eternity.

“So laughter first, a fine idea,
From which good friendships grow,
But without love what can it be
But echoing and hollow?
For all its empty dripping sound,
I could not bear to part
With what has lightened all my life
And so well warmed my heart.”

“You talk as when a poet writes
Which I find rather strange,
You spoke quite frank and plain before.
Why now this sudden change?”
“You are not the first with whom
I’ve this odd choice rehearsed,”
My interrupted friend replies,
“It’s quicker said when versed.

“So now to love which perfect thing
Without which life is stale,
Unlaughing love, however, must
Be beautiful but pale.
That said, I think that missing love
I’d find no voice for humour,
And even laughing time away
I’d wish it gone the sooner.”

With that he reaches for a reed
And twirls it in his hand.
“I know well why you talk of doubt
But I don’t understand
Why you mentioned liberty
Nor where that choice is made.”
I ask and rise to follow him
To a nearby willow’s shade.

We settle down below its tears,
His kind gaze no less bright.
“This choice we all are given
I see in a different light.
We are not given one choice here,
In fact we’re given more,
We can choose what’s offered,
We can keep that choice in store.

Choice is freedom, and to me
There’s nothing quite as sweet,
With freedom lost I think the cost
Is never worth the treat.
This choice which we are offered here
We make once and it’s gone,
But in choosing not to choose
The choosing carries on.”

I withdraw, smiling, at these words,
Leaves rustling in my wake,
And walk alone back to my stone,
A decision there to take.
I settle looking at the gate,
At all the souls in view,
And think on what the Reaper said
‘They know no more than you.’

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