My daily Zen calendar recently said something very interesting. “You carry heaven and hell with you.” I love my little Zen calendar. It makes me think hard about things I usually don’t think about at all. That’s what’s so neat about it. This particular phrase made me laugh when I read it, because it’s so true.
The way we choose to think about anything can make us happy or unhappy. It’s not what happens, it’s how we think about it. We choose to perceive things as good and bad, fortuitous or unfortunate. We like to give things labels right away, and that’s usually what makes us so unhappy. If we could only just accept what is as what is, and not have an opinion on it, what a great achievement that would be.
But that’s not what’s on my mind today. It’s something much lighter than that. Without getting all bogged down with what religions tell us, what would be our own personal heaven and hell, if we had the opportunity to fashion it on our own? Everyone has different opinions about what’s “heavenly” and what’s “hellish,” and one man’s heaven might be another man’s hell.
I remember watching an old “Twilight Zone” episode that featured a self-centered, arrogant man who was sent to hell. At least he thought he was. He was stuck in a small, cluttered room he could not leave, with a person he could not stand. And even though I was young, I understood, and thought it was pretty interesting. It made me think about what my hell would be like.
I always thought it would be funny if the Supreme Being that greets you in the afterlife had an incredible (god-like) sense of humor. I mean, think of what a supreme sense of humor would be like, and what kind of jokes that being might play on newcomers. The possibilities are endless!
One thing that comes to mind would be to take the form of a person you absolutely could not stand on earth. Think of it – you finally get to that wonderful place, and the one being you are so looking forward to having a chat with turns out to be the spitting image of your arch enemy. That would be tough to deal with, but what a great lesson. I wonder if that’s ever happened.
One of my favorite movies, “What Dreams May Come,” is about a man who goes to heaven looking for his wife who passed before him. It shows a lot of what people find in their own personal heavens. It’s a visually rich and beautiful movie, oozing with visual metaphors. One of the first things that happens to him in heaven is that he is greeted by past pets he has owned. I sure hope that’s how it works, because I’m really looking forward to that.
When my daughter was young, she used to look at beautiful things, like flowers, mountains and sunsets and take pictures of them making a lens with her hands. She would cup her hand around the scene, squint with one eye open and “take” the picture. Then she would tell me it was a picture for heaven. She said someday when she’s in heaven, she’ll be able to look at all the photos she took. I really love that idea and hope she enjoys her “photos” again someday. Maybe she’ll share them with me.
I have my favorite things here on earth, and I hope that when you get to heaven they hand you a lot of your favorite things. I have to admit, McDonald’s fries are terrible for you but some of my favorite things to eat. I also adore strawberry-covered cheesecake, and if you feed me some, I will follow you home. Italian fries with cheese? I can eat a family-size serving all by myself. So I guess part of my heaven is going to be a restaurant that serves all my favorite food, that I can partake of as I wish, without gaining one pound, since it’s all calorie-free.
Another part of my heaven is going to be a library. I love bookstores and sometimes avoid them, because if I step into one for five minutes, I am there for five hours. So many subjects interest me that I can lose all track of time in the process. I once was on the way to see a friend in another city, passed a bookstore and three hours later, she was on the phone trying to figure out what happened to me. A bookstore happened to me! So my heaven will have books and books as far as the eye can see, and all the time in the world to read them.
Hammocks. My heaven will also have hammocks, under big, beautiful shade trees with a light breeze blowing. Hey, I’ll need somewhere to sit and read all my books, right? Nothing quite as awesome as swinging in a hammock on a beautiful lazy summer afternoon. I forgot to mention that my library heaven will be outdoors, which is where I like to be best of all. I never really want to come inside. I’ve felt that way since I was very young and it has never changed. I always get a little sad whenever I have to go inside. Inside is never as good as being outside. OK, well maybe during a tornado, or when it’s forty below outside. So my heaven will have no walls or doors, ceilings or floors. And it’s heaven, so the weather won’t bother the books at all, kind of like the way the food has no calories.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? So great that I think I will invite the Supreme Being over to join me for an Angry Orchard Hard Cider or two. Yeah, that would be… heaven.
Originally published August 10, 2012.