Heaven

Two days ago I took Pinky, our young cat, in for her second flu shot.  She’s eight months old now and nearly full grown, so I can’t really call her a kitten.

As I got up to go to the register, I heard the clerk speaking to someone about when they could “pick up the ashes.”  My heart sank. When I got to the desk I saw the customer: a tall youngish man with his wife.  They had a tiger-colored cat in a crate.  The husband was trying to be upbeat and keep it together, for the cat’s sake and for his wife. She was pregnant and emotional. I heard the clerk say, “We can put you in a room in the back to say goodbye.” The wife stood there alone and crying while the husband dealt with the clerk. I started to cry myself, and couldn’t help but go to her and touch her lightly on the arm. ”I went through this not long ago. It’s the worst thing in the world.”

She nodded, pursed her lips in an attempt to smile through the tears, and looked away. I immediately regretted stepping in to her space. But I also I wanted to tell her to read “The Last Battle,”By C.S. Lewis. It was one of the only things that gave me any small comfort when Honey died. Not that I could have been comforted. It took months to stop crying at the drop of a hat. But if this grieving mother to be had any inkling of the afterlife, any shred of belief, she might take comfort in knowing this is not all. This is not the end. These creatures have more chance at Paradise than we do. After all, they never sinned to bring this whole thing down.

I got into my car with Pinky and wept openly. How awful death is. What a robbery. Whether it’s a pet or a friend or relative, or someone you don’t know. It’s a rip off of the highest order.

My brother in law posted a youtube video that’s been going around: A teenage kid who’s got a heart condition. The boy did one of those postcard stories, sharing how he had cheated death many times. And most recently jus a few days before he posted it.  He shares what he saw. How he didn’t want to come back.

If you keep up with the news, you know that this young man died this past Christmas Day, just two weeks after he made this video.  He died on Christmas. When I found this out, I cried again. And though his video is inspiring and full of hope — as to what lies beyond — I couldn’t help feeling angry and hurt, that his family was ripped off. RIPPED. OFF.  Why does God allow it, why do the wicked prosper, why do the godly suffer?

There is a some comfort to his family that he made this video. That they know he is very much alive, and it’s only us who are left in the valley of tears.  I do believe in what’s next. You can call it Heaven or The Afterlife. I tend to side with N.T. Wright, that there’s more to Eternity than the thing we’ve come to call Heaven … people floating around singing and feeling generally awesome. I tend to think that eternity will be played out here, in a renewed world, a renewed universe. Maybe by then Jupiter will be a plane ride away, and we will be busy inhabiting all the worlds and multiverses that scientists have only just begin to imagine.

But in the meantime there are tears.

And I still cry when I think of Honey.

Pinky is very much like her. They have the same body type, the shape of their heads are similar.  They both have soft fur. And they’re both very affectionate.  Pinky rushes to the door when we come home. When I wake up she comes running to greet me. The kinds of things Honey did when she was young and spry.

We saw “War Horse” last night. All I can say is, if you love animals you will have to bring hankies. On several occasions I had to tell myself, “It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie.”  It wasn’t the impact of war on humans, but on the animals. Poor innocent animals. I’m sure it’s the season for emotions, but I can’t help thinking that if God does not have a place for all these innocents, then heaven/the afterlife will not be fair or good or full of grace. And the whole point of it, is that it will be a place where there is justice and goodness and grace. And the innocents will be there.  Not just innocent animals but people of all kinds who sought to do right and honor God. And before you balk at that, remember if heaven is a place where there is no more sin or decay or corruption or pride, then you and I have NO GROUNDS to be there unless God is good, merciful, and gracious.

My cousin posted a video of her parents’ 45th wedding anniversary back in 1991.  Our family is in the video: there are snippets of me with no wrinkles and bad hair. My sister is so young and of course beautiful. We are both wearing outfits with obscenely large shoulder pads. There’s one snippet of my father sitting on a couch, doing what he did so often: subjecting someone to some arcane bit of history; nodding, gesticulating with his arms as if his hand movements would make the bit of the story come alive in the listener’s mind. Classic Dad.

David Sedaris wrote a lot about his mother. She never allowed anyone to take her picture. So after she died, he and his sisters had no photo album to reminisce over. No photos, no old family movies. But at their mother’s funeral, some cousins brought them a clip from a long-forgotten vacation. They’d actually captured, on an old Super-8 camera, the image of Sedaris’ mom, walking into a bar. They transferred it to video and gave it them. The clip was probably no more than eight seconds long. David and his sisters sat in front of the TV, playing that little video clip over and over and over.

I have no doubt that my father is off somewhere, regaling someone with a story. I have often prayed to God that he introduce Dad to my mentor Roy, who died a few years ago. They both got in at the last minute. I’m sure they have a lot of stories to share.  Dad loved a good joke, and Roy made a handsome living writing jokes for Johnny Carson. I’m sure they are laughing where they are.

And here, for now, there are tears.

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