By Sadiyah Tariq
Every awakening is a rebirth, every occurance holds a special meaning — because if it didn’t, the lost lives and things would cease to have made an impact to the world. Every object that held a nostalgic memory behind it, every soul encased in a body that carried the journey of that person’s reel of life all take up a significant space in the universe, and to go away with them would be to produce a concaving void in the space they once occupied. On a cosmic level, they are just a blip in time. But to me, as I watch the life leave their gazes, they are so much more. And I remember them, every single one of them, as I watch their faces up to the very last second until they officially pass over, and all that is left is their empty shell — scarred and charred.
But this face is different. This face is calm, serene. He is at peace with himself, and what he has done. He is concentrating. His aura flowed like a still lake, even though his body was engulfed in flames. As the air grew tense with confusion and panic by the throngs of onlookers giving his body a wide berth, none of it came near to touching him.
I wanted to help him, even if it meant I would cease to exist as a result. I understood that I was temporary, and that no matter how big I grew and how far I touched, I always end up dissipating eventually. However, when I tried to reach out, my sparks would drive people farther away, and my cries for help came off as roars of warning. They stayed back, weary of both him and I. That was when I realized that his end of inevitable, and there was only one way I could help him.
All I could do was embrace his figure, shroud him in my flames, and contain myself to him and him alone. I tried to contain my warmth to as low a degree as to even be considered cool, to minimize the pain as much as possible. I was his demise, but I took no thrill in it.
And I watched him. Watched all the way until the end. Watched his skin peel back from his face, his robe shred along brushes of my flames. I’ve seen my victims cry before, and for once, felt the void within me that came with the act.
And as I took his life, he took something from me. A part of me. All of me. Because when his life was gone, I couldn’t bear to continue my own existence. And then I was gone.
But I will always remember his serenity in my embrace.
This piece is inspired by a photo of Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk Thích Quang Duc burning himself to death at a busy intersection in Saigon, taken by Malcolm Browne. You can view the image and read the story here: https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/the-burning-monk-1963/