What follows is a story of pure fiction. The genre could be said to be non-science fiction. It obviously has a religious component. It emanates from the mind of Grandpa Don who, at his age, thinks about these things.
A Strange, But Heavenly, Transformation
It wasn’t that it was all that unexpected but it sure was a strange experience. At the time Harry knew that he was at the end of his life but took solace in the fact that it had been a good, long life and he felt he was ready to move on. Harry considered himself to be moderately, or even above average in his faith and fully expected to join his wife, parents and others in Heaven. There was actually a feeling of anticipation as he would like to meet his birth parents for the first time and tell them how he appreciated being born and thank them. That is of course if there really was a Heaven. Oh yes, he did believe, but there was always that small doubt lurking in the back of his mind that was usually quickly dismissed.
But it was definitely strange. His kids were there as well as a couple of the grand-kids and they were telling him how everything was going to be all right. Someone was holding his hand, probably his daughter, but although he could hear them, he couldn’t see them and he couldn’t speak. Yes, they were telling him that everything was going to be okay. Harry knew somehow that that was true but not the way they meant it … or so he thought. Then the really strange thing happened. There was an uneasy feeling the likes of which he couldn’t place and then he could see them. But he was looking down at them and … he could see himself in the bed below. They were calling out loudly to him but then his sight faded as did their voices. There was a sensation of motion but it was not unpleasant, just more strangeness.
He didn’t know where he was. He couldn’t see. Doing a mental check of all his senses he came up blank. Sight, hearing, touch, smell, even taste were not returning anything but yet there was a feeling of contentment, again, strange, in that logic would call for panic. Yet there was none of that either. But with all that, or rather none of that, there was a sense of awareness. He wasn’t alone. How long that lasted was also a mystery for there was no sense of time either. Well, he would settle for contentment until something else came along. And something did just that.
Harry heard, or rather felt, or was it just a perception of someone, saying, “Welcome. Peace be to you, Harry”. It didn’t even startle him and he simply thought he would reply as he would in church, “And with your spirit.” To his surprise the thought … or perception … came back with. “Thank you Harry. Peace is indeed with my spirit.” Along with the reply came a hint of sight, a wispiness of something moving gracefully around him. Did he imagine it or see it? Harry didn’t know. He mentally posed the question to himself, wondering if this was Saint Peter but the thought was met with the response, “Heavens no. I am just here to welcome you to Eternity and set you at ease. My name is Alfred.”
Well, that settled the first question. Yes, Eternal life is real. But how are we talking? And an unexpected response was there. He didn’t hear it but it was there, “This is how we communicate here. I wouldn’t normally probe you to know your thoughts but until you learn to project them to me I have to do it. You do have a right to your private thoughts here you know, and besides, if everyone was broadcasting their thoughts for everyone else to hear, the din would be deafening and conversation would be chaos. You will need to learn how to control your thoughts in order to communicate but don’t worry, it will come naturally.”
This time Harry made an effort to gather his thoughts and with Alfred in mind, tried to project them. Trying to ‘think out loud’ he said, in a manner of speaking … or rather thinking … “I suppose that in time I will get acclimated to this place”. The reply came as, “That’s the idea, crude at this point, but you are on the right track.” And then he continued, “But that brings up a couple more points, time and place. Time doesn’t exist as a dimension here. It is one of the most difficult to grasp but there is no linear flow of time as you once knew it. We are in the now. You will gradually assimilate the concept so don’t concern yourself with it by worrying about how long you will be here, which of course is a non-concept in itself because this is not a place as you were accustomed to view it, but rather a state of being which can change radically as your spirit adapts to it”. Harry did not even try to figure that out, it almost made his head swim … if he had a head. But Alfred, anticipating Harry’s next question went on to say, or project, or whatever … “By the way, your current state of being is somewhat like what you thought of as Purgatory although you never did have the concept quite right. Think of it more as a phase of acclimation and final choice once you understand what Heaven is all about, assuming that you will … understand, that is.” That startled Harry and caused him to almost mentally shout, “You mean there is doubt about where I am heading!”
There was almost a tone of mirth in Alfred’s response, “The one thing that hasn’t changed is God’s wonderful, and at the same time terrible, gift of Free Will. You still have it and it is yours to keep. No one or no state of being will take that from you. It will ultimately define you and your state of existence. Please remember that, as you acclimate yourself to whatever you will be.” With that, Alfred seemed to be fading away as he said, “I will leave you to continue with your assimilation but am just a thought away should you need me, When you feel ready, present yourself at the gate to the City. All will become clear. Peace be to you.” With that, he was gone.
Harry thoughts raced between the concepts that were all too new to him. He thought there were no more choices to make and, come to think of it, he was somewhat bewildered and wondered what would happen next while he also wondered, considering Alfred’s statement about time, if there would be a next. He was having a difficult time wrapping himself around that concept. But as he pondered these things, he became aware of himself standing in a huge plane that was evolving before him. In one direction it slopped upward but he couldn’t make out what was in the hazy distance. In the opposite direction he saw only a mist or fog that obscured what was beyond. To either side the plane seemed to go on forever. He became aware of himself. It was not the overweight and aching body he had when he lived, nor was it the body of his youth, yet it was recognizable as his body. He wished it had clothes … and a wisp of smoke curled about him becoming a kind of robe. As he contemplated what was happening he became aware of other people, more and more of them, some, going up the hill, others, going down and others like himself, milling about not knowing which way to go.
He was startled by a voice that entered his head … “Don’t listen to him!” it said harshly. That wimp lies.” At that, Harry saw a man approaching. “Not everyone is welcome but they did welcome in people who we would not associate with.” Harry replied, “I don’t understand.” “Oh, you will”, came the reply. “Come with me. We are forming an army and will storm the city gates and when we take over the city we will do things our way.” Harry said, “How can you go against God?” the reply came, “We have Free Will and can do anything we want. That makes us as powerful as God who can’t even take away our free will.” Harry asked, “How long have you been forming this army”? The reply came, “Time is meaningless but we have been gathering since people began dying.” “So,” said Harry, “where is this huge army?” The reply was, “as it grows, it diminishes. The earlier members keep disappearing into the lower mists.” Harry said, “I think I understand … and No, I have no wish to join your army. God’s way is not man’s way but it is the right way.” To that there was no reply and Harry was left on his own again.
He wondered at there being dissension in Heaven. But no, this state of being was not Heaven. But, this state of being was becoming more real to him. He realized that without actually trying, he had been conversing only by projecting his thoughts and only to a specific person. He was getting the hang of it. At that moment, even though there should be no moments, he noticed a woman nearby who was crying. Moving closer, he asked, “What is the matter. Can I help?” She sobbed, “It is hopeless!” “Why?” said Harry. “My sister is in Heaven and I can’t go there.” Again, Harry asked why. “I hate my sister because of the way she treated me when we were alive and I will never forgive her.” He asked, “But won’t they let you talk to her so you can reconcile?” The woman practically spat out, “I WILL NEVER TALK TO THAT WOMAN.” And with that, she ran down the hill and disappeared into the mist.
Harry thought that free will can, indeed, be a terrible thing. He noticed that people were going into the mist but none were coming out. Any curiosity of what was in the mist was banished from his mind. He didn’t want to know. He decided to move up the hill and after reaching the top of a crest he saw in the distance towering pinnacles that seemed to glow from within. As he continued walls took shape and he saw a large gate. People were going in but not all the people.
He came upon two men sitting on a large flat rock. There were many such rocks scattered about, some empty but some occupied by individuals and some in pairs. As he approached these two he sensed consternation emanating from them and he asked why they were just sitting there. The reply came from one of them, “Each of us thinks that the other would be welcomed into heaven but not himself and neither of us wants to be left outside the gate and neither of us wants to see the other rejected.” Harry didn’t understand. One of the men said, “My name is Juan and in life I was poor and uneducated, always forced to take the most menial work when I could find work at all. I had to accept charity and public aid and so was rejected and shunned by most people. I anticipate the same here.” The other said, “I am Edward and in life I had a good education and a great, well paying, job. But I was angry about paying high taxes that went to support people like Juan here.” Whereupon, Ed turned to Juan and placed a hand on his shoulder. He went on to say, “I hated people like Juan and wanted them to just go away and stop taking my hard earned money. But I now see that he is the same as me but was born to poorer circumstances. He wanted to be productive but was prevented by people like me. God will certainly welcome him to heaven but He will judge me for what I did to him.” Juan countered by saying, “Ed, you were blessed in life and you will be blessed here too. You will be welcomed to Heaven.”
To Harry, it seemed clear and he said, “Yet you sit here, each believing the other deserves Heaven. Your concern now is more for the other and less for yourself even though you fear that it may mean that you are rejected by God. You do not reject each other now but want the other to attain Heaven. I don’t believe that God will reject either of you. You have forgiven each other and I am confident that God will do no less. Come, join me on my way to the gate.” And reassured in their hearts, they did.
The three had gone only a short distance when they came upon another and were aware of his hopeless state of mind. Harry asked what may be the problem. He replied, “I rejected God and Heaven and I am forever banned.” Harry asked, “What makes you think that?” The man responded, “I was born into a Christian family but found no logic in religion and rejected it. I told my family that they were foolish in their superstitious beliefs and went on to show them that I could be a good human being without relying on such absurd ideas as God and Heaven. Now I find myself here instead of just dying into nothingness. I was wrong and I have doomed myself.” Harry thought for a moment, or he thought it was a moment even if there were no moments, and he asked, “When you say you tried to be a good human being, what did that entail?” The man said, “I was honest with everyone, just and compassionate. I donated to charity and tried to be kind and pleasant to everyone.” Harry replied, “That was what Jesus taught during His life.” Without waiting for a response, Harry said, “You were a follower of Jesus without even realizing it. I can’t believe that God would reject anyone who was sincerely trying to do His will.” With that, the man’s burden was lifted and he joined the group traveling toward the gate.
As they progressed up the hill they encountered many others, some singly and others in small groups, some happily moving upward at different paces and others moving, sadly downward. They approached a man and a woman who were in obvious stress but clinging to each other. It was Ed who invited, “Will you join us?” The woman said, sadly, “If we only could, we would, but we are doomed.” Harry asked why and she replied, we fell in love after Mike was divorced from his first wife, and I from my first husband. We ignored our church’s rules and were married. It was our wish to be together forever. An accident took both of our lives and now we fear that we will be together, but not in Heaven. We are trying to get up the courage to walk down into the mists. Harry, said, “This can’t be right. I wish Alfred was here.” Suddenly, Alfred was there with them and said, “You have a question?” The story was related to him and he asked the woman … her name was Lilly, “Did both you and your first husband sincerely vow your mutual love and devotion to each other?” She said, “I thought so but then he abused me and treated me like his possession.” He then asked the man the same question. Mike replied, “I did but apparently she didn’t love me but she loved what she thought she could make me into. She rejected all my friends and was constantly nagging me to be someone I could not be.” Alfred replied, well, it is obvious that your spouse’s intentions were not sincere, and therefore their vows were not true. Tell me, if you remember the story of the woman that Jesus met at the well, did he condemn her for her relationships?” And when they said “No” he said, “So then, why do you think God would condemn you. Do not be so concerned of the rules of men if, in your heart, you know you are doing the right thing”. At that, Alfred was gone and the group of three became five.
As they progressed, Harry noticed the robes of other people, or rather, he decided, their garments, for they varied in color and style from simple to more elaborate to none at all. He was struck by the fact that all the people who walked along towards the city, regardless of garment or even lack thereof, emanated an aura of dignity and wholesomeness. It all seemed perfectly natural and comfortable. He also noted that the people themselves differed in skin color and general appearance from Caucasian, to all shades of dark skin and included those who were oriental, Indian, and everything else. As he was pondering this, a man wearing an Arab head scarf approached and asked, “May I join you on your journey to the city?” They all answered in the affirmative without hesitation. As they went forward, Abdul comment that he found the variety of people to be a surprise to him but at the same time it made him happy. He was asked if anything else was surprising and he laughed saying, “Oh yes. Some among us thought that all our sexual desires would be fulfilled beyond our dreams in heaven and I sense that belief may be fulfilled but not as expected.” Ed said, “Meaning?” Abdul replied, “I find that, in spite of what would have been provocative in life where ever I look, I have no sexual desires. So I suppose you could say they have been fulfilled at the highest level.” Lilly grinned and observed, “Yes, with no need of procreation here, the need for sexual pleasure also is not needed and so does not exist in us. We see only the beauty of the person.” At this, Mike asked, “Does this situation bother you Abdul?” He replied, “Not at all. I always had a deep respect for women and knew that the attitudes and beliefs of our fanatical brethren were wrong, which is why I see so few of them here.
As the group drew closer to the gate it grew in size and in diversity. They all accepted one another and they all knew that this is what Heaven would be like. The joy and contentment in each of them grew and the more it increased the faster they moved until they were there. The light emanating from the city was so intense that it was blinding but it drew them on and there was no fear.
As Harry stepped through the gate his saw a majestic and glorious being who greeted him with, “Welcome Harry my beloved child. There is a place for you here amid we who love you.” With that, Harry could only murmur, “My Lord and God!” But then he was able to see beyond this magnificent being and there he saw, all with expressions of beaming joy, Mary, his wife, and behind her his adopted parents with the two who he knew were his birth parents. Behind them were deceased siblings, other family members, and also friends. Harry was home and any feeling of strangeness was gone.
© 11 November 2014
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