The Old Man and the Vulture

An old man, his skin as orange and cracked as the earth below, sat hunched over from years of arthritis on an old splintered bench. He pried each finger away from his palm trying to open his fist to wave to the passing mother and child, but he was old and slow and they passed without noticing he was there. He hung his head and licked the blood crusted at the corners of his mouth as he tried to form enough saliva to spit in disgust but, alas, his mouth was too dry.

Just above the old man at the top of a light post sat an old vulture. His wings were not what they used to be. He no longer soared above with the kettle of vultures, circling and waiting for their prey’s last breath. He sat resting his weary skeleton. His head that used to hunch menacingly, now only hung low, showing the gray feathers that graced his head. A butterfly circled around him. Too tired to whisk it away with his wings, he let out a loud squawk, but it only brought the butterfly closer.

“You are wasting your time,” the butterfly said. “You sit here each day waiting for this man to die,” he said, “and each day you sit here dying.”

The vulture watched the butterfly’s mesmerizing wings sparkle in the sun and thought, “How could something so beautiful be so stupid?”

“I do not sit waiting for death,” the vulture said, “I sit waiting for life. I wait for his life to give me new life and, with each meal, I live another day.” With this, the butterfly landed on the vulture’s one crooked wing.

“Your entire life is waiting for death,” he said, “and so too the life of your friends flying above.” The vulture lifted his head and watched the others circling in the wind’s current. “Do you think they follow you because you are wise? No, they follow you because you are old.”

The vulture ruffled his feathers tossing the butterfly into the air. “They circle above waiting for two old men to die,” the butterfly said. “Who do you think will pick your bones when you lie upon the crumbling earth?”

The vulture did not speak, but his shoulders no longer hunched and his head hung lower, almost passing his talons. “My life is but a flash compared to yours,” the butterfly said. “Not long ago, I was just a warm spot tangled in a web of silk, lucky enough to survive the great fires that burned the others from the trees before they could transform. My life may only be a flap of the wings compared to yours but, in that time, I will travel farther than you have ever been and see things you have never seen.”

This time the vulture did not throw the butterfly from his wing when it landed. “Yes, my life will end,” the butterfly said, “but when I die I know my life will be complete.”

The butterfly moved its wings and fluttered just in front of the vulture’s hooked beak. “I must go,” he said. “I musn’t waste a minute more wallowing here in death. My life will be gone as fast as a seed in the wind, but there is always enough time to live a full life.”

The vulture watched the butterfly take off in the strengthening breeze until he was little more than a speck in the distance. The vulture hunched his shoulders, crooked his neck, and dropped down from his perch landing just beside the old man on the bench. The old man was startled, but he was in too much pain to jump from the surprise. The old man slowly straightened out his shoulders and lifted his head as if to show the vulture he was not yet dead. He was not ready to die, there was still so much he had not done. “Is it my time to die?” asked the old man. “Yes,” answered the vulture, “but first we must live.”

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