Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Heaven Is A Place....

The fires they have in Heaven are pure blue and smokeless, with bright flames that stretch downward into the clouds in columns of braided light. They burn continuously, in secret locations on the outskirts. They burn thousands of tons of baggage in Heaven every day.

When I first got to Heaven I didn't know anybody there, and I was sort of stunned by how crowded and chaotic the scene was. I mean, this was in what I guess you'd call the Ellis Island part of Heaven, the processing area (no actual Pearly Gates that I was ever aware of). Still, you know, I thought there'd at least be someone I knew there to greet me. I guess I expected to immediately encounter my father, my grandparents, my dogs, a big family reunion of all the people I was related to but never met, the people who died long before I was born.

Heaven apparently doesn't work that way anymore (if it ever did), and once I'd been cleared and had passed through I was on my own. I remember asking some guy where everybody was. "Your people?" he said. I nodded. "They're here somewhere if they're here somewhere," he said. "if you see what I mean."

I asked him about God and Jesus. "You might see them around occasionally," he said

A group of women on a bench who looked like they'd been dead hundreds of years --I mean, they looked perfectly healthy, but not like anyone from a century I was familiar with-- directed me to some sort of registry, which they insisted would have the records I'd need to get properly oriented and track down people I might know.

This place was a long walk. It turned out there's a lot of walking in Heaven. The first week (I'm just guessing; the place is like a casino: there are no clocks anywhere) I never saw anyone who looked like an angel, and never encountered a single familiar-looking face. I slept, I guess, but it was narcoleptic sleep. I would just nod off anywhere and anytime, and this was initially disorienting, as you might imagine. There were no dreams, and when I asked somebody about this I was told, "Oh, no, your dreaming days are over. Dreams would cause nothing but problems up here."

It took me a few days, but I did initially find the registry. The building was immense, labyrinthine, almost impossible to navigate, and ridiculously crowded. I heard someone say that there were stories of people who spent their first ten years in Heaven in there. "There's no denying things are a little bit out of control," a functionary said. "Overcrowding is a problem. But when God makes a promise, He keeps it, and it takes some people awhile to recognize that time is no longer an issue here. What part of eternity don't people understand?" Then, in a hushed voice, this fellow said to me, "Be honest, isn't it sort of terrifying? Weren't you ever scared to death about the whole idea as a child? I used to lie awake at night fretting. I couldn't get my head around it; forever seemed like too much time to spend in any one place."

I certainly don't want to seem like I'm complaining. People are pretty much universally agreeable in Heaven, and I haven't seen a single dust-up of any sort. I found a bunk in one of what are called the "dog stations," and spend my nights surrounded by sleeping dogs. None of them, alas, are dogs I spent any time with on earth, but there are supposedly thousands of these stations. I've been assured that no matter who you were when you were among the living, you'll never see even a fraction of Heaven, and it's possible that my relatives could be installed in some sector that is as far from my lodgings as New York City is from Honolulu.

I don't know that for certain. I've never seen a map of the place, and haven't met anyone else who has. All I know is that I've been here for what now seems like a long time, and I still haven't found anyone I knew in my previous life. Maybe there's a reason for that, and maybe it's for the best, even if it doesn't jibe with some of your preconceived notions.

I also haven't seen Jesus or God yet, but remind myself that I lived my entire life (relatively short as it was) on earth without ever laying eyes on an American President.

I'm not going to pretend to understand Heaven. I never felt entirely home when I was still a living, breathing entity, and I have to confess that I also never had any real expectations of an afterlife. It's an odd place, certainly, though quite beautiful. People seem to spend most of their time walking around, or sitting in parks staring (happily, it always appears) into space. There don't seem to be any concerted efforts to organize any sort of social activities, and with nothing to buy you just sort of find yourself settling into the peaceful lull of things.

Still, I'll admit that there were times I felt restlessness, even though this wasn't supposed to be an admissible possibility. I eventually volunteered for a job burning baggage, and it suits me just fine and passes the time. One of the advantages is that I get to look through the stuff before I burn it, and it's always interesting to see the sorts of things people try to bring with them. I burn a lot of photographs, and a surprising number of unfinished manuscripts, journals, and letters. And jewelry, which for some reason isn't allowed. Much of the baggage is of a sort that I guess you'd call purely psychological or metaphorical, and is heaped in what feel like very heavy garbage bags. We're not supposed to look in these bags, but a co-worker told me that he'd had one break once only to discover it was empty. I can't explain that.

They do have a truly incredible musical repository here, stored in a giant tower with an awe-inspiring atrium and listening stations arranged in a circular manner and spiraling upwards for what seems like a mile. Somewhat to my surprise, this incredible trove gets very little traffic, and most of the patrons appear to be ancient curiosity seekers who lived in the time before recorded music. I hear a lot of gasps from these characters, and some of them seem to be genuinely frightened by whatever it is they're hearing. It's a cool system, at any rate. You sit down, put the headphones on, and type in whatever it is you want to listen to.

Tonight on my way home from work I stopped in and listened to Badfinger, and then I walked home to the dogs.

It was a good day, and I have no reason to suspect that there will be any better, or any worse.

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