Beorn sat, quietly crying, by the bed of his grandfather. He was no more than nine but he had been given the job of watching after his grandfather this day. His family had known he had been dying for days and so everyone had taken their turns sitting with him. He had been asleep for a long time and the silence had sat on Beorn heavily; tears had worn a path down the everyday grime on his cheeks. He knew it would not be long, but there was no knowing exactly with these things.
“Beorn, why are you crying, my boy, my little bear, look up so I can see your face”, his grandfather’s voice was that of one who had just stirred from a long sleep.
“You know why I’m crying, and I don’t want to talk about it. Now that you’re awake, don’t think any more about that, let’s talk about better things.” Beorn wiped his cheeks as if to hide the evidence of his tears.
“There is no better thing to think about, and no greater gift in this world than the one I am about to receive.” The old man smiled kindly at his young grandson, but he could still see the sadness written all over Beorn’s face so he continued: “Your father has taught you about grain and how to grow it, yes?”
“Yes, but what does wheat have to do with this”, Beorn looked at his grandfather with sadness still in his throat as he wondered what he could mean, to talk about farm chores at a time like this.
He simply said, “You are as grain. We all are.”
Indignation rose within Beorn, cutting through his sadness somewhat, “What do you mean? We aren’t anything like grain.”
His grandfather cracked a sly grin and said, “Aren’t we though? You are planted here in this earth and grown, and unfortunately circumstances here are just like your fields outside; they are not always equal or ideal. Some spots are more fertile, some get more sun or water; others still are more vulnerable to wind. But you plant the whole field all the same because even the marginal spots bear. Most of your seeds will sprout and grow and will produce a harvest, but they don’t all always grow and they don’t always stay alive. The crows and ravens come along and pluck the early sprouts to get to the seeds. In your fields you can’t save every seed from an early death, could you? No, the ravens are just too fast sometimes, and you can’t be there every moment. Nor can you protect your grain from gusts of wind or hail, because these things happen. And though you try your best to look after your crop, to give it what it needs and to tend it wherever and whenever you can and to mend what has been blown over by propping it up, there will always be some plants that are lost before they would have been harvested. This is how it is for the gods. Yet there is one major difference, where the seeds you plant that die early, those are lost to you; but the gods do not lose us. They have built for us a place after this one, a place that they have made to be all the things that this world is not.”
At some point his tears had begun flowing again and all Beorn could manage to say was, “But couldn’t they do more?”
His grandfather began to shake his head solemnly, “This is a question that almost everyone asks in their life. Life is never easy, not for any of us, not for the highest king or the lowest pauper. It is easier on some, yes, but it is never easy.”
They were quiet for a short time and as the silence began to build; the old man began to look off into the ether and said:
“No matter how well tended your wheat may be, no matter how fertile the soil, no matter the water given to it, no matter the sun, no matter how well tended, your grain still dies. It has a season and within that time it reaches its fullest height, flowers, grows its grains, and its greens begin to turn to gold as it fades and dies. The farmer doesn’t mourn this though, he celebrates it; he reaps it and threshes it, and winnows it, and then he brings it inside. He leaves behind the stubble in the field, the stalks, the chaff, because it is the grain itself that he prizes above all else. And this happens to us too, we have a season, we grow to our fullest height, we flower and bloom, we set our seed, and we grow gray as we fade, and eventually we too die. Death threshes us and our spirit is winnowed from our bodies as we begin our journey to Hell. When I die my body will be left here like the chaff, the straw, and stubble in the field. But do not mistake my body for me, for my mind and memory will be gone on its way to Hell. And I would have it no other way for I know in all my spirit and soul that my mother and father, and grandmothers and grandfathers, all my forebears, they are all there waiting for me.”
“You and everyone else always said the gods look after us”, replied Beorn.
The old man quickly continued, “They do, they absolutely do. Just like you, my little farmer, you step in and help where you can to shoo off the crows or prop up the stalks when they are blown down by the wind, the gods step in too, they are all the time helping us. They tend this earth and the people on it. They want for us to live full lives, all of us. But you must also realize that they are tending a large field and have already done so much for us already.”
“Can they not save you then?” Beorn said plaintively.
“My season is drawing to an end, and when it does I will die, that is the way of the world. Why would or should a god step in and save me now from this to keep me alive here on this earth? They have already given me eternal life, and eternal life for every other man, woman, and child. This is the field, it is where I live and grow, and when my time is up I will pass to the other side and be taken home.”
Beorn stared off and said, “Then why must we be there or here and not together the whole time there?”
His grandfather replied in a gentle voice, “There are no children born in Hell, we are their children, for this is the field where we are grown. They wait there in anticipation of our return to them and we enrich their lives there when we return to those we have lost. We will come with our own tales of this life, our own experiences, our own stories to tell them there. And perhaps once in a while, just maybe, when things begin looking a little bit stale there and when all our loved ones have returned to us, and we have faded from living memory entirely, and there are no new songs or stories to be heard, we might return to the earth to be planted and grown anew where we will hear new songs, learn new stories, and we will grow once more to our fullest height, flower and bloom, set our seed, grow gray and old, and die to once again wait for all those you have now come to love in that new life.”