What’s Heaven Like?

Avoiding contemplation of my own mortality was easy, as I recall, when I was a young man.  It has become increasingly difficult to do that as I grow older—especially when in discussion with an inquisitive granddaughter.

“Do you say prayers, Gramps?”

“Prayers?  Ah, yes, sure, I say my prayers.”

“Every night?”

“Actually, I do it in the morning, before I get out of bed.”

We were alone in the house, I reading a book, she playing with her Lego set.  Music was playing softly in the background.  I wasn’t sure if she was just making conversation, or whether this was a significant moment.

“Do you pray to God or to Jesus?”

“Well,” I began, “aren’t they really the same?  I guess I pray to both.”

“Do you believe in Jesus, Gramps?”

I put my book down on the table beside my chair.  She kept building her blocks, but I could tell she was listening for my answer.

“I believe in the things Jesus taught us,” I said. “That we should love each other and try to be good.” I was hedging a bit, because I have long had difficulty with a literal reading of the Bible.

“If we’re good, we go to heaven when we die, right?”

“That’s right!” I said, on firmer ground now.  “That’s one of the things Jesus taught us.”

After a few moments, she said, “Old people die before kids die, right?”

“That’s right,” I repeated.  “Most of the time, old people die first.”

“What do you think heaven is like, Gramps?”

I wanted to tell her that heaven, for me, was having this opportunity to talk with her, listen to her, and feel the love swelling in my chest.  But that wasn’t what she was after, so I tried a reply I’d heard years before when my father-in-law, shortly before his death, was asked the same question by my wife.

“I don’t know,” he’d said, a sly twinkle in his eye.  “Nobody’s ever come back to tell me.”  His sense of humour had never left him.

My granddaughter gave that some thought as she continued connecting block to block, building I knew not what.  It was colourful, though.

“I know nobody comes back, Gramps.  But what do you think heaven is like?”

“Hmm,” I said, trying to figure out how I might answer that.  I have never thought of heaven as a streets-paved-with-gold sort of place where I’ll meet up again with every person I ever knew—assuming they would also make it there.  My own perception has been evolving over many years, more urgently as those years have mounted, and now my granddaughter was asking me to explain it.

Deep down, I think I believe that heaven is bound up in the vast universe we all inhabit—an ever-expanding universe if science is to be credited.  And I think I believe that every living thing is, in and of itself, already a part of the creator that, in several different languages, we have called God.  So in that sense, we are inhabiting heaven now, wending our way on an eternal voyage through the stars.

I think I believe that every living thing, including each of us, is animated by an inextinguishable spark of energy—I might call it the soul—that enlivens us during our mortal journey.  And when my own journey ends, blotting out my conscious existence as one little girl’s grandpa, I think I believe that my soul will carry on, perhaps to animate some other form of life somewhere in the universe.

I’m as certain as I can be (which, I suppose, is not so certain at all) that my soul, that unquenchable amalgam of light and heat, will live eternally, for if it were not so, if that energy were to dissipate and die, the universe, rather than expanding, would surely be shrinking, bit by bit by bit.

But every time I ponder these things, I remember the admonition I constantly remind myself of—not to believe everything I think.

“Gramps?” my granddaughter said, looking up from her blocks, waiting for my answer.

“Hmm,” I said again, realizing I was out of time.

“It’s okay if you don’t know,” she said, standing up from her Lego endeavours.  As she climbed onto my lap, she added, “I just don’t want you to die.”

It was several moments before I could speak again, so I held her close, offering a silent prayer.

And in that moment, I knew what heaven was like.

Secret Valentine

(first posted 12 February 2016)

In a recent telephone conversation, one of my granddaughters reminded me that Valentine’s Day is coming round again.

She didn’t ask if I would be her valentine again this year, as I have been for most of her six years, which would have been nice.  No, instead she mentioned that she’d be giving a valentine to every one of her classmates at school.

“Every one of them?” I exclaimed, mildly astonished.  “Don’t you have, like, one special valentine?”

“No, Gramps,” she replied.  “That’s not how it works.  In grade one, you give everybody a valentine.  All the kids do.”

galore_valentines_kids

I wondered how many youngsters there were in her class for whom she was planning to buy a valentine card.  After all, how many valentines can a six-year-old handle?

“How can one person have so many valentines? I protested.  “Being somebody’s valentine is supposed to be a special thing.  Won’t people wonder why you’re giving everyone a card?”

“Gramps! You don’t understand!  They won’t know who gave the valentines to them.  Mummy’s going to help me print ‘Guess Who?’ on all of them.  My name won’t be there.”

“Okay, wait a minute, l’il guy,” I said.  “Let me get this straight.  You’re going to give valentines to every kid in your class…”

“And my teacher,” she cut in.

“And your teacher,” I continued.  “But, you’re not going to put your name on them, so nobody will know that you gave them a valentine.  I don’t get it.”

“Oh, they’ll know, Gramps.  Everybody knows.  They just won’t know which valentine I gave them.  That’s the fun of it.”

That’s the fun of it?  Back when I was a kid, the fun of it was in deciding whom I would ask to be my special valentine.  To which little girl would I dare to offer a valentine card?  And who would accept it without laughing?  Or worse, not accept it at all?

shy boy

There was a certain delicious risk involved back then, a risk that made the whole exercise worthwhile.  After all, asking someone to be your special valentine meant you were sort of sweet on her (or him, if you were a girl).

But, times change, and so do valentine cards.  Now, they don’t ask someone to be your valentine; instead, they proclaim ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’!  They’ve become indistinguishable from birthday cards, for goodness’ sake.

Anyway, I wished my granddaughter well with her plans.  I harboured the faint hope that perhaps I’d still receive one from her—with her name on it!

Afterwards, I kept thinking about our conversation.  Anonymous valentine cards made no sense to me.  But, my granddaughter had stated, “They’ll know…”

Well, who’s to say?  Maybe they will.  It occurred to me that I’ve always sent anonymous, loving wishes to my own two daughters—back when they were growing up, and even now, as they raise their own children.  I never thought of that as silly.

good night

At night, after they were asleep, I had the habit of whispering in their ears, to tell them how much I loved them.  They hardly stirred as I did it, and they never mentioned it the following day.  And, every day now, when thoughts of them cross my mind, I still send little messages of love their way.  I always believed that, somehow, they would know I was telling them.  Anonymously, as it were.

So, maybe my wee granddaughter is right.  Perhaps it isn’t such a ridiculous notion.  In fact, I’m even hoping to receive a valentine this year from ‘Guess Who?’

I’ll know.

guess who