An old friend of mine asked me a tender question about what follows life.
He is a friend of long standing. He is a friend even older than I am. One of the friendliest things he has done for me is to make me look sort of young by comparison.
I’ll be 77 in a couple of days. He has 21 years on me. By comparison with him, I’m young – at least until some sassy little 60-year-old rushes by.
I took it very seriously the other day when Royce grew silent for a moment and then asked me a sobering question: “Do you believe in a hereafter?” he asked.
You kind of expect questions like that from someone 98 years old. You don’t have a ton of time left in the here and now. As you get deeper into a long life, that can make a person curious. That’s why it’s called the hereafter. Sooner or later, everyone on earth will share that experience. One day you’re here and the next day you’re after.
So is there a hereafter? Or is there merely an opportunity for a full chance at last of a permanent nap. At the very least, that’s probably better than going to hell, although maybe a lot more boring.
Royce wasn’t just kidding around. He wanted to know whether I think death is a door rather than a stop sign. That’s one of those questions that are pretty much unanswerable for most people so long as they’re on the living side of the question. Oh, we have some solid answers to religious questions. For instance, there isn’t much historical doubt that such beings as Jesus and Muhammad actually walked among us.
But total, conclusive proof of a hereafter lies on the other side of death’s door. If there’s a heaven over there, we won’t know it until we awaken and catch our first glimpse of the Pearly Gates.
It seemed to me that Royce wouldn’t ask such a question if he couldn’t trust me to give him a straight answer. He wanted my frank opinion. So I told him. I don’t know for certain, but a hereafter doesn’t seem logical to me, I told him. I’ve enjoyed my ride on this planet. And I don’t want to get greedy.
It was then that he made it clear why he would ask a friend such a question. It quickly became apparent that he wasn’t concerned primarily with heaven as such. Mind you, he has the comfort of being a religious man, a man who has earned a ticket to heaven, if anyone has.
But I couldn’t help him with heaven as a destination because the classic version of heaven is not, in my potentially ignorant view, the sort of afterlife that excites a person’s interest. Do we really want to spend eternity in a gold-plated place where a choir is incessantly singing the same nine songs?
But it wasn’t the choir he wondered about. So he came to the point:
“I would like to see her again,” he said.
I could instantly guess who “her” is. And I think seeing her again is the best version of heaven I’ve ever heard. If there is a heaven, then there is no better reason for that heaven than seeing her again. Or her seeing him. Or seeing all the other hims and hers you loved in life.
If there was ever a place where eternity is ruled by love and mercy, then ending the painful absence of the woman you adored is far better than precious gold and non-stop music..
Mark Twain, whose wife and daughters were stolen from him by disease, was intensely bitter about that. And in his writing, he let slip his capacity for loving a woman long after she was gone.
On the surface, he was writing an enchanting yarn about Adam and Eve, but his own personal losses informed his story line. Twain’s Adam had at first resisted the woman Eve who came into his life as a surprise and started managing him. Many say she helped get them both expelled from of Eden.
But there came a time when he did not want to live in any place without her.
“It is better,” Twain wrote, “to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.”
“Wheresoever she was” he wrote,” there was Eden.”Contact columnist Bill Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.