August 30, 2009
In this story, I am going to imagine heaven. And along with that, I will indicate some of the ways in which this heaven operates. It is important to understand the weight I put on the word imagine, because I am, by no means, trying to portray this as the way heaven actually is. All I know of heaven and the way that heaven operates is from what I have read. In this story, I do make an effort to stay consistent to these elements, but I also portray them very differently than what is standard. I hope that you will not find this to be offensive. I also hope that, if you do, you are able to overlook these details and still be able to appreciate the overall themes.
On a Low Bank of Clouds
My name is Annie, and I killed myself when I was twenty-five.
I had my reasons, but I’m not going to talk about them right now. Instead I’m going to talk about what happened after that.
I was kind of expecting to find myself in hell when I first came to, but I didn’t. It wasn’t heaven either. It was something of a meadow made of clouds, and there were quite a few other people, of all different sorts, around. In the middle of the meadow was a courtyard, which served as the beginning to two roads that led off in different directions, one leading up into another set of clouds, and the other leading down into a valley.
There wasn’t anyone facilitating, but somehow we knew our turns. I had just arrived, so I could tell I had quite a while to wait. I found a clear spot to sit, off by myself, but suddenly a kid came up to me. He was tall, with long hair. He smiled at me when I looked up at him, but he looked pale and weak, and he seemed to be fighting back a tremble.
“Could I sit here?”
“Uhh, sure,” I said, kind of wishing he wouldn’t. He sat on the ground, with his arms wrapped around his legs and his head resting on his knee.
“Have you tried it yet?” he asked, after a minute of silence.
“To go in. To heaven.”
“No. I’m still waiting. I just got here.” I didn’t really feel like talking, but he kept going.
“Oh. I just tried. I had to let them skip me, because I couldn’t make up my mind.”
Now I was curious. “What do you mean you couldn’t make up your mind?”
“Well, it was my turn, and I went up there, down the heaven road.” His words tumbled over each other, “I figured it would be pretty easy, because I really do love God, and I figured I’d been pretty good and all. But I started getting close to the door, and I got this feeling. I realized that He’s there.” He stopped to think, and to catch his breath. “Like, it sounds weird, because we always figured He’d be there, but He’s actually there, through that door. I started feeling it as soon as I got close to the door. It was like light that you see with your emotions. And as I got closer I could feel His presence, and I could feel my presence. And against all that light, I was so—horrible. I was all pride and apathy and, oh,” He stopped for a second, and then picked up again, at his previous pace. ”And here I was, this horrible thing, about to walk through the door to all that light, and I couldn’t do it. So I started wondering if maybe I was supposed to take the other road, but at the same time I could tell that He wanted me to go to Him, but I still couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I had them skip me for a while. And now, well, I don’t know.”
This didn’t seem right. “You mean, you get to pick which way you go?”
“Uhh, well, kind of, I guess.”
“So what’s stopping everyone from just picking heaven?”
“Well, we’re stopping ourselves I guess.”
I still was unsure about the whole thing, but I could tell that the kid was too worn out for me to be interrogating him. I went off to wander, and eventually I found some other people who had also committed suicide. When they found out how I’d died, they invited me to come with them to watch the world that morning. I didn’t have anything better to do, and I still had a long wait, so I agreed, and they took me to a low bank of clouds, overlooking the planet.
Looking at the Earth from the Heavens, or at least the outskirts of Heaven, is different than the view from space. You can still see the planet, but you can see everything in detail: every person, tree, car, animal—everything. It was amazing, but when I looked over at the people I was with, they all looked miserable. I didn’t understand why, but I didn’t have the nerve to ask them, so I just watched the planet. And then I saw it. Or I felt it, or something.
I saw the people I knew, and I saw what they were feeling. It was loss and emptiness, anger and sadness; it was unbearable but inescapable. It was consuming them, and I could tell that it was because of what I’d done. I didn’t have a problem killing myself, because I didn’t care about myself. But, really, I was stealing myself from the people who cared about me. The weight of my suicide hit me, and I was crushed beneath it. I felt awful for what I’d caused, but I couldn’t offer any remedy. I took their beloved, and I would not be able to return her.
And then there was something else, too. It wasn’t worse than the guilt, but it was just as bad. I saw my friends and family, and I felt their hurt, and I realized why they were hurting. They were hurting because they loved me. They loved me! And, I realized, I loved them. There was all this love and I threw it all away! I didn’t think anyone cared about me, because I didn’t care about myself, so I threw my life away. But all of these people did care about me, and now I had hurt them and I couldn’t take it back. I could have lived in that love, but I refused to see it until it was too late.
My stomach felt sick, but you don’t throw up in the heavens, so the feeling just lingered in me. I thought about what the kid had said. I figured I didn’t even need to try to go into Heaven; I could see from here that I didn’t deserve it.
When my turn came, I took the Other road. It was long, and wound down the cloudy hills. I was a ways along when I saw the man, but I think he had been walking by me all along. When he saw that I noticed him, he looked at me, saying, “I’ll walk you to the door, but you know I can’t go in.”
I didn’t know what to say, so it was quiet for a while, until he spoke again.
“You know my story, Annie.”
“Yeah.” My voice came out all funny.
“You know that I went through all that so you wouldn’t take this road.”
“But.. What I did–” I couldn’t seem to get my thoughts out, but, in retrospect, I don’t think I needed to.
He just stopped and looked at me, and I turned around to look at him. He held out his hand to me, and I took it. He led me along the road to Heaven, but when we started getting close, I felt the same thing that the kid was talking about. I could feel God, and against that feeling, I was this wretched thing. I felt so sick I fell down. I wanted to turn back, to just take the other road, but he looked over at me. “Will you still come through?” he asked.
I felt like He wanted me to come to Him, too, just like the kid had said, but I was so disgusted with myself. The whole time, while I was on the ground, he held his hand out to me, looking me in the eye. I felt like he should be looking at me with disgust, but there was only love in his gaze, so I took his hand. He picked me up, because I couldn’t walk, and carried me toward the gateway. The feeling was most powerful right at the doorway, and I felt so wretched in comparison that I stopped him. I started to try to say something, to try to get out of it all, but he spoke first.
“It was worth it, you know. Everything I went through–it was worth it.” And he stepped through.