Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms
“The Good Place” is one of the popular new TV shows. It’s a clever comedy that plays with notions of what Heaven might be like. I’m not that clever. When I try to imagine Heaven, I end up hoping it would be a whole lot like the places I’ve already known and loved. That says nothing about Heaven but maybe a lot about me and my limitations.
But it is a hard concept for me to contemplate. I once heard about a lawyer who died and was whisked up to some fancy gate in the sky. There he is invited in to do his favorite thing on earth, which was golfing. Amazingly, his very first swing results in a hole-in-one. The next hole was the same, and so forth for the whole round. Every shot went in the hole. The lawyer confided to his caddy, “You know, I didn’t expect to get to Heaven. In my career I, uh, took a few ethical shortcuts.” The caddy turns with a devilish grin and asks, “What makes you think you are in Heaven?”
I remember Lily Tomlin’s thoughts on the Good Place. She was asked if we would have sex in Heaven. “Of course we will!” she said. “We just won’t feel anything.”
Mark Twain has a famous quote on the topic. When asked where he’d like to spend eternity, he said, “Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”
It seems the cartoonist Gary Larson is an expert of Heaven and Hell, for he drew many cartoons on that theme. I’ve found about 30, and there may be more. One cartoon shows a bunch of devils laughs hysterically at notes from a Suggestion Box. In another a devil tells a new arrival, “Your room is right in here, Maestro.” (The room is filled with doltish guys holding banjos.) And in another cartoon a new arrival in Hell has just taken a swig from a coffee cup. “Oh man!” he says, “The coffee’s cold. They thought of everything!”
The more I try to imagine heaven, the weirder it becomes. I have to admit that drifting on a cloud with a harp singing the lord’s praise would get old in a hurry. Any place that has me singing is gonna be more like Hell than Heaven. I’m not the only one to wonder if things might get a little dull in the afterlife. In one of my favorite Far Side cartoons some fellow sits all alone on a cloud thinking, “Wish I’d brought a magazine.”
I’d like to think Heaven comes with a good cable TV package and no irritating commercials. I’m sure Heaven will have really fast internet connections. It would be great if I could eat ice cream all day and not gain weight. In my version of Heaven, in fact, scotch and wine would be health foods. Doctors would frown during annual checkups and ask, “Are you sure you are getting enough beer and pizza?”
And dogs! I want to say that Heaven just would not be Heaven unless it would return me to my dear buddy Brandy, the impudent springer spaniel who shared so much of my life. But right there I’m in trouble again. Before Brandy there was Danny, and a more lovable and loving dog never lived. After Brandy came Spook, the elegant gentleman who never did a single naughty thing in his life. Spook was followed by Katie, who loved me totally and helped me survive a difficult time. I can’t imagine Heaven without any of these dogs, but I can’t quite picture Heaven with all of them milling around my feet.
But while I can’t form a clear picture of Heaven, it is not hard to imagine my personal Hell. For me, Hell would be a windowless room with a telephone, computer and uncomfortable chair. I would be given some crucial task to perform, but to do it I’d have to gain cooperation from my bank, or a large software business, or an insurance company, or Social Security, or . . . you get the idea!
My personal hell would involve struggling to find phone numbers for businesses that don’t want me to call, so they don’t list their numbers. In my version of hell I’d spend hours “on hold” while insipid music plays in my ear. Periodically a voice would come on to say “Your call is very important to us,” which is a lie, a damned lie, actually. And then, after sweating an hour or two on hold I would get to one of those triage tapes that gives me four choices, only none of them will be remotely appropriate for the issue I’m calling about.
When home computers were just becoming popular it was tricky to connect to the internet. (Does anyone remember using a telephone modem? Remember the bizarre sounds they made, like R2D2 vomiting in an echo chamber?) In the early days of home computing, frustrated consumers would have to phone their ISP for help getting online. Before they could talk to a human being a taped voice would ask infuriating questions, like, “Are you sure your computer is plugged in?” Or the taped voice would say it wasn’t necessary to for me to bug a customer service agent with my issue. All I had to do was to log onto their helpful online database!
Now, that would be my version of Hell. And if the managers down there truly “think of everything,” when I walk in Hell they’ll hand me a notice telling me that there was a goof in the Registrar’s Office. I didn’t actually graduate, for I still have to take several more years of German.
What would be your version of Heaven or Hell?