Manhood and Death: A Short Story

"Life's not a puzzle to be solved, it's meant to be lived and experienced — from end to end."

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Takahashi and Ben were sitting against the wall; a fast food bag between them, and the day's work only halfway done. Pestering his Japanese mentor with life questions for the better part of the morning, Ben hoped the reprieve would bring answers.

Takahashi took a sip from his soda cup and considered where he should begin, then decided it would be best just to begin.

"You could be born with a lot of nice things," Takahashi said. "Live life a rich man but die alone. Then, in the end you always had nothing. The rich don't have a monopoly on virtue or the good life. Death in a way sees through all the bullshit."

After wiping his lips, Takahashi licked his dirty fingers dry. "A life of pleasure, a life of suffering. That's not unique. That's not what makes a man," Takahashi said, "but who can endure to the end?"

Ben chewed slowly, savoring all the knowledge while also allowing Takahashi to continue.

"You could have had a good streak," Takahashi said, "but we won't know how you were when it's all said and done until it's all said and done. Were you a coward, a villain, or a man? The totality of your life can only be counted at the end. Rather than your bucket list or some bullshit set of goals and achievements, what kind of eulogy will you have? That's the true measure."

And, to Ben's dismay, Takahashi was done. The two men finished the last bit of their food and returned to their daily labor.


The sun was setting but the day's work was done. Takahashi and Ben each rewarded themselves with a cigarette. With his fingers spread apart, Takahashi held his palm out. Cigarette dangling from his mouth, Takahashi squinted and said, "From here till the end, you get many chances to bring honor." Turning his palm the other way, "You get many changes to bring dishonor."

Shaking his head in confusion, "Bring honor to who?" Ben asked. "Why?"

Like red coal, the cigarette burned from Takahashi's lips as smoke streamed from his nose. Ben feared he asked the wrong questions.

"That’s how most people think, right? Who?" Takahashi said. "Who did this to me? Why? Why did this happen to me?"

Takahashi rubbed the cigarette out against the ground and placed it in his shirt pocket.

"Life's not a puzzle to be solved, it's meant to be lived and experienced — from end to end. And that includes all the what ifs," Takahashi said. "Life's full of them. It's messy and ambiguous and uncertain. But that's not important to a man."

"And what’s a man?" Ben asked.

"Once you figure that out," Takahashi said, "it’ll reveal itself in everything you do."

Like most folks, Ben wanted to be told how to think, to be told what to do. Here's the story, here's what you should think about it, and here's what you should do. But Takahashi had nothing more to say — picking up the buckets of paint, he walked back into the Old Mission.

The sun had set and Ben stood there, left alone to consider.

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