"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison


Death, Wipe that Smile Off Your Face

Death, Wipe that Smile Off Your Face

I recently received the sad news of the passing of a colleague’s son after a 15 month battle with brain cancer. He was 15 years old.

It called to mind a sonnet by the 17th Century English Poet, John Donne. It begins with the words,” Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful…” He calls Death out, belittling its menacing reputation and calling it “ a slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men.”

In case you don’t get Donne’s point, Death, let me break it down for you: there’s nothing to be proud of in taking a young boy’s life. Your impish claim to conquest rings hollow when your victim has not had the chance to fan the embers of his existence into the full-blown flames of life. How easy it must have been for you to douse those embers with the twisting of your boot heel. Did you relish the moment? Was there a trace of glee on your face as you felt the heat of his life slowly give way to a lifeless cold?

You have done more than end his life; you have taken away all that he could have been…a policeman, a fireman, a scientist working on a cure for the very disease that claimed him…the lives he would have touched through acts of kindness and mercy…the joy he might have spread to those who would have known him, or called him dear, love, dad or friend. I am talking to you, the one who never considers repercussions, makes connections, or acknowledges the possibility of being wrong. Death is natural, I agree, but so is every human’s right to assert their uniqueness on the collective consciousness of humanity, a right that for this young boy will never be exercised.

Let me give it to you straight. Your view of your mission to extinguish life completely while riding about the world on your high horse is delusional. The life you thought you claimed will continue long after you have crept on looking for your next victim.  Death, you are transitional. Some religions see you as the gateway to eternal life, others, a catalyst for incorporation into other forms or beings. Regardless of belief, our essence doesn’t simply vanish with a single stroke of your antiquated sword.

Then there is the power of human love. He will live again through those who loved him…when they see his handwriting on a piece of paper..hear a song he especially liked…find a toy he played with as a child…discover a photo of him with family and friends during happier times, rendering your claim of total obliteration false and impotent.

Death, wipe that smile off your face. Hang your head in shame. In the end it is you who will die.


Joe Cappello has a special interest in the workplace and families and the bewildered inhabitants of both. Recent work includes “Dead,” published on February 4, 2019, in Flash Fiction magazine; “The Clean Room,” a chapbook published by Blue Cubical Press in December 2017; honorable mention in the 2017 George Dila Memorial Flash Fiction Contest for “The Dunbar Overpass,” appearing in the print edition of Third Wednesday, Vol. X, No. 4; “Paperless,” appearing in the online version of PIF Magazine, October 2017.

Cover photo by Mat Reding on Unsplash

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