By Sean Dietrich
People always said there would be no tears in this place. When she was still living on Earth, everyone said this. Preachers said it. Sunday school teachers said it. There were songs written about it.
But she’s here now. And she definitely sees people nearby who are having some tearful reunions. Interesting.
What a beautiful place, this heaven. It looks like a scene too grand for Hollywood to produce. Nobody could capture this. It would be like trying to fit the glory of Hawaii into a single postage stamp. And, hey, Hawaii looks like a municipal landfill compared to these digs.
She’s been imagining heaven ever since she lost her husband. She hasn’t seen him in 30-some years.
When she first met him, she was a girl. It was World War II. He was skinny, handsome and his smile was 2,300 watts. It was a big dance. She wore a nice dress. The band started playing something uptempo and the young man asked if she would do him the honor. He presented his hand. She took it.
Her first words to the gentleman were, “Can you Jitterbug?”
He laughed. “Can I? You’d better believe it.”
That man. That beautiful man. They were married forever. Then he died and left her alone. After his funeral she spent the rest of her life wondering about this divine realm.
Now she stands in a single-file line of souls, they are all waiting to get in the gates.
Funny. People on Earth used to call them “pearly gates.” And she always assumed they would look like the entrance to one of those snobby private neighborhoods. The kind with the golf courses, fitness centers, and electric carts. But these gates are made of marbled light. The actually glow.
Something else she never realized was how dark Earth is compared to the brightness of heaven. Although it does make sense when you think about it. Earth is only lit by a distant ball of hydrogen and helium that floats 91.766 million miles away in outer space. Which is like trying to illuminate Cleveland by using a single flashlight.
Ah, but this place. It puts the Earth to shame. Not just the scenery. Although certainly, it’s pretty here — it looks like Yosemite on steroids. But there is something else. The people. They look more at ease. More rested somehow.
Then it dawns on her. Life on Earth was never about rest. It wasn’t about ease, either. It was about survival. That’s what our species does.
From the moment we are born we’re programmed to survive. Breathe. Eat. Drink. Make children. Jockey for a good position. Win, baby, win. Trudge. Labor. Eke. Fight. Scrape. Fuss, fuss. Work, work.
Humans are incapable of understanding life without this struggle. Our minds are not ready. It would be like a duck trying to comprehend the rules of Scrabble. We never stop straining. Our heart never takes a break from beating. Our brain always fires. We blink 19,200 times per day, for crying out loud.
But in this place there is no effort. No labor. No earning a living, no doing dishes, no laundry. There is no money to be made. No lack. No hunger. Thus, there is no anger, avarice, pride or daytime television.
And even though she was vaguely aware of all this ooey-gooey love on Earth, now she’s INSIDE it. It’s no longer a concept here. It’s real. It’s the difference between looking at a postcard of the Great Barrier Reef, versus swimming through it as an anemone-fish.
Here, sounds are sharper. Smells are so thick they swallow you. Her vision is so crystalline that she can see for 10,000 miles.
Which is how she is able to see him.
There he is.
She recognizes him right away. Even though he’s far off she sees him standing near the gate, hands in his pockets, like he’s waiting for someone.
Look at him. He’s as handsome as he always was. She’s been living without him for a lifetime. She never remarried because, why would she? He was everything to her. He had always been everything. And she had missed him something awful.
All of a sudden emotion takes over. She can’t control herself. She breaks away from the long single-file line of souls. Now she is running toward him — which is probably against celestial rules, but she doesn’t care. She’s been waiting a long time for this.
She notices that her knees don’t hurt, her hips feel brand new and her feet aren’t aching. Mid-stride her hair begins changing from coarse silver into flaxen. Her eyes become younger until they are like a baby’s. Her figure changes. Soon, she is lean and lithe, like a little bird. Like a teenager.
He’s only a few feet away now. He sees her running like a fugitive boxcar. He smiles. She leaps toward him and throws herself into his arms. There are tears falling from her eyes. And from his eyes, too. Big, huge, sopping, drippy, soaking, wonderful tears that wet the 24-karat streets like a miniature Mississippi River. The tears keep coming so strongly that she cannot see through them.
Then. Music in the far-off distance begins to play. A fanfare. They are announcing her arrival into the Great Beyond with French horns, bugels and trombones. The trumpet call is incredible. The whole sky turns into sound.
The young man presents his hand.
She takes his hand. She gives him a watery smile that is filled with decades of pent-up sadness, loneliness and always wearing a brave face. And the words just come easily. Like she’s been waiting 50 lifetimes to say them.
“Can you Jitterbug?” she asks.
He wipes her cheek. And well, the look on his face says that he most certainly can.
Rest in Peace, Miss Hilda.