saw a bumper sticker a few days back on a car doing an illegal
u-turn in front of me. It read, “Heaven is my home…I’m
just passin’ through!” It tugged on something
I’ve been pondering the past few days: what is heaven?
a child I always had an image of a place with impossibly blue
skies and wide boulevards lined with golden pavements and
swaying palms. Set back behind sweeping green laws were endless
rows of palatial Beverley Hills-style mansions with white
columns - I secretly hoped that mine would be double-story.
In the background were always snow covered mountain peeks
just like the ones in the opening scene of The Sound of
Music. Interestingly though, there were never any people
in my vision. I suppose they were all inside their respective
mansions or off gathered around a throne some place, singing
VISION OF HEAVEN?: While many of us traditionally
picture heaven as a place of great natural beauty,
Mitch Albom comes from a different perspective. PICTURE:
picture of heaven is decidedly short on visual landscapes.
Occasionally they hover in the background, but there’s
not a golden pavement or swaying palm in sight. What
I like about Albom’s paradise is that it’s
all about relationships, connections, and memories."
much as I assumed heaven was a good place, I never really
wanted to be there. To be frank, the prospect seemed a bit
dull. I remember routinely asking my parents, “But what
will we do there?” No matter what their response, I
suspected it was probably just one long church service.
Beyond these childhood fantasies, I have to confess I’ve
never much thought about heaven. I’ve given my students
a journaling assignment this week, asking them to recount
their spiritual journey. The assignment guide includes a series
of questions, one of them being, “How important is a
‘destination’ to your journey?”
ask not to make a point, but because I’m genuinely interested.
Honestly, it's importance to me is almost nil. Not because
I disbelieve, but more because I have no idea what it is.
I’m a visual being; if I can’t picture something,
I can’t anticipate it. Besides which, I’m not
a destination kind of bloke. I hate long-term goals and personal
development plans. I’d much rather take a rambling drive
in the country than head somewhere in particular.
So why this sudden interest in a place I never think about?
After having confessed recently that I’d finally read
Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, I had six
different people suggest that I read Albom’s more recent
The Five People You Meet in Heaven. So I have.
Albom is an annoyingly gifted storyteller. I only wish I could
write as imaginatively, succinctly and to such effect. He
tells a story inspired by the experience oft recounted at
Thanksgiving dinners by his Uncle Edward who, while in hospital,
saw the souls of his departed loved ones sitting on his bed
waiting for him. In Albom's story, 83-year-old Eddie, a maintenance
worked in a seaside amusement park, is tragically killed as
he struggles to rescue a little girl from a falling cart on
the roller coaster. Upon his death, he proceeds to heaven
where he meets, one by one, five deceased people from his
past who help to reinterpret aspects of his earthly life to
Albom’s book is not meant to be anything more than a
story. Though often insightful and occasionally profound,
Albom does not venture a theological analysis on the nature
of eternity. But theological it is, and in the best sense.
Albom’s picture of heaven is decidedly short on visual
landscapes. Occasionally they hover in the background, but
there’s not a golden pavement or swaying palm in sight.
What I like about Albom’s paradise is that it’s
all about relationships, connections, and memories. Eddie’s
life was overwhelmingly tragic and sad, full of disappointment,
regret and loss. But Eddie’s heaven is not some disconnected
ethereal place where the past magically evaporates. Here Eddie’s
past, present and future find resolution, together. There
are no demarcations between what was and what will be; each
only makes sense in light of the other.
One paragraph worth quoting:
"Time," the Captain said, "is not what you
think." He sat down next to Eddie. "Dying? Not the
end of everything. We think it is. But what happens on earth
is only the beginning."
Eddie looked lost.
"I figure it's like in the Bible, the Adam and Eve deal?"
the Captain said. "Adam's first night on earth? When
he lays down to sleep? He thinks it's all over, right? He
doesn't know what sleep is. His eyes are closing and he thinks
he leaving this world, right?
"Only he isn't. He wakes up the next morning and he has
a fresh new world to work with. But he has something else,
too. He has his yesterday."
The Captain grinned. "The way I see it, that's what we're
getting here, soldier. That's what heaven is. You get to make
sense of your yesterdays."
We never meet a Divine presence in Albom’s heaven -
I don’t recall God getting a mention - but the territory
is no less sacred for it. Whatever one's view of the afterlife,
this compelling little story suggests that heaven is as much
to do with the mysteries of now as it does with those of tomorrow.
That’s a heaven I can relate to.
Carey Holt is on faculty at Whitley, the Baptist College of
Victoria, where he is a lecturer in spirituality and pastoral
care and assistant dean for research.