There was white on white everywhere. It was warm white. It was everywhere. Like a pleasant snow fall. Inviting white, calming white, as if high-in-the-clouds white. Bleached white gave way to daylight; and a long and beautiful day light at that. Solid white gave way to an open sky and the liveliest blue he had ever seen. This world was strange yet, in ways, it was almost the same as what he’d known on Earth.
Anton’s office resembled an old library with book stacks spread on mahogany shelves. There were French doors and floor-length windows through which gleaming green grass was visibly drenched in heavenly daylight, framed in a bright blue sky that was beautiful in all its strange vastness. The newly deceased descendant squirmed a bit and sat uneasily in the seat opposite him.
“So Lieb, tell me a story so we may start the Annals of your past.”
“What?” the dead man asked incredulously.
“It is part of the process for all new arrivals. I might add that recording the Annals of your past is a critical part of the process. We discussed all of this when you first arrived.”
“Right now I can’t really focus on telling stories. I’ll have to think about it, Opa. How are those Annals organized again?” The man was still in a shock about his sudden appearance before his white robed Heavenly Sponsor.
“Enough,” Anton said. “So what have you learned down there?” Opa asked his charge softly and firmly. The sponsor’s esses always sounded like zees; his double-ues always sounded like vees. “What comes to mind, mein Lieb?”
The man took a deep breath and then, quite easily, recalled the full and wonderful life he had had. Even so, he acknowledged with great sadness how so much time had been wasted. Just thrown away. He finally said, “I learned that I wasted most of my life bitching and moaning about things that just didn’t matter.”
“Lieb, watch the language, mein Herr.”
The man reflected momentarily and sniped back, “Do you want to know what I learned, or how I learned it?” He took another deep breathe, and then spoke to answer his own questions.
“Well, I learned to always tell the truth.” My father always said, “Tell the truth. There is only one truth.” The man looked shyly now at Anton. “That can help get me in, right?” Even in death his deep, sea green eyes showed lively.
“Yes, those sorts of things do help.” Anton looked much the part of a claims processor, had it not been for his flowing robe. “I thought I told you that, mein Lieb. And once we are done with the Annals, you will get your next assignment and go forward as a Heavenly Plebe.”
The man looked somewhat disgusted. He was still dressed in his deathly street clothes. He breathed deeply yet again and snarled, “Is this some kind of heavenly corporate bull shit?”
“Watch your language, please. It will only help, believe me. Lieb, there are rules and protocols, just like anywhere else you have ever been. There are policies and procedures that must be obeyed. I am sorry Lieb; the Hereafter is a big place. And once we are finished here, you will be free to move on toward Paradise. You shall see. Please, be patient.”
“What do you mean with ‘Anywhere else’? You mean this place is just ‘anywhere else’? Are you kidding me? Move me unto Paradise? Is that just ‘anywhere else’ too?” The man grew angry, desperate.
Anton looked patiently at the man and said nothing.
“Come on, Anton! Unto Paradise? Where am I really headed? To The Light? To somewhere else?” The man was puzzled; perplexed.
“On toward Paradise, and with no guarantee of getting there, Lieb. Watch your tone as well as your tongue.” Anton moved slightly behind his desk and blandly added, “The Light has to wait while we complete the…paperwork. These are formalities here…for us.”
“Formalities? It sounds like I’m still…down there!” He pointed down toward his feet. “Why don’t you just want me to tell you who I am; who I’d been?” As if you don’t know!” Then, after a brief pause, the man added, “Anton, don’t you want to know who I meant to be?”
Anton still said nothing.
Hearing nothing from his Opa, the man turned his mind to his passion for driving and singing in his beloved old Buick, his eyes not totally on the road, the music blasting from six powerful speakers, his mind wandering from place to place, and from person to person. And to his old boss, Ed Spader, with his Southie accent, and all his sincerity, all his integrity; Ed was a guy’s guy. Definitely like the guy I should have been. “Not the guy I was, but Ed was that guy. Ed was the guy who was good for humanity and good for mankind you might say.”
Opa remained in a soft, comfortable wing chair, and closely regarded the man who sat across from him.
“And why ain’t I in some ‘earthly purgatory’ like you were, Opa?”
“As I told you, the Hereafter is a big space, Lieb. And take comfort that you are not in an earthly purgatory. “We are trying to get away from keeping souls down in those places, like my time in that garret. These penances are being phased out now in favor of more interventional methods, such as what we have now, with you and me.” Anton gestured around himself, “For the newer arrivals we offer sponsors who will help navigate souls through significant processes and paperwork. To start with we will need –”
“Look Anton. For now, I want to stay relevant to my old world. Not to this locale, Anton. Can you help with that, man? Let me do some penance down there.”
As if oblivious to what his descendant had just said, Anton continued, “And although some policies and procedures have changed – modernized over the last…period, let us say, these are still…exacting.” He paused now to look long at the man across from him. The man seemed broken-hearted and ready to weep.
“You are chasing ill-defined dreams and unattainable goals, Lieb.” Anton thought back to his own world, to his families, and to his war wounds. He recalled the men all around him, maimed and dead and blinded with fear. Soldiers even killed by flying fragments of their comrades’ bodies. Some corpses used like sandbags to desperately slow the volleys of deadly projectiles. He clearly recalled lying close-packed in the attic of the Bornheim House, and then his 140 year confinement there that followed his own earthly passing.
“Your world is done – finished, Kaput mein Lieb! Trying to stay relevant to a world of life, a world that no longer exists for you, is pure fantasy. It is not the way. You shall see. It is not the way.”
Calmer and more acceptant of his apparent fate, the man spoke softer now. “You mention Earth several times, Opa. Well, what else is there? I remember the signs when I got here, the signs that led me to you. But who else, what else is there…here?”
“God has many children and God’s Heaven is for all. There are separate ‘entrances’ so to speak, and you may never see other life forms among you, though it is not impossible. And be assured, our God is God of the Universe. His Son is His Son, and there are more than a few messengers.”
“Like you?” he asked sincerely.
“Well, yes mein Lieb, I am technically a Heavenly Messenger, also known as a Heavenly Scribe. We are a large group here and are engaged in Heaven and on Earth, filling a multitude of Heavenly Tasks. Scribes do much more than write and record. But now I speak of other messengers. I speak of the prophets and the angels, and a good number of other divine and semi-divine beings. Heavenly Scribes are but one category of a lesser being. You know Lieb, the Scribes earned their name by recording the new arrivals. Their jobs multiplied over the millennia; their title never changed.”
“I know the feeling,” the man lamented. Then, with a strange tinge of familiarity for that term category of being, the man roughly whispered, “Jesus!” He sunk down in his chair and cupped his hands to his face, his elbows near to his knees.
“Yes, He is the Son,” Anton chimed with an electrified smile of contentment: “And He is an extraordinary Messenger, though generally seen from a distance and on limited occasions, and only by consent of the Most Highest Authority: Still His presence is always upon us; of that you should have no doubt.” Anton went on and continued to speak of the sheer numbers and the behemoth task of processing the new arrivals.
“Everyone has an ancestor assigned to help shepherd the new arrivals in the way we are now engaged.”
The man took his hands from his face and sat up stiffly. “You know that even in life I struggled to stay relevant to the world of the living, a world ruled by 20 year olds and 30 somethings.” As a wry smile overcame his demeanor, KC’s former husband shyly cast his eyes downward. He remained sitting, he thought for a second, and then raised himself up straight. “Look, I was going nowhere fast on that life track either,” he said. “So much of my life was wasted there. So many lives are wasted there.”
“Your life was not wasted.”
“So okay then. And now I wish to return to the world of the relevant. Their world! The world of the living!” He stood up as if he were ready to leave Anton’s grand office.
“I do not see any logic in what you are saying. Accept your death, Lieb, death as a part of your life that has now passed, the end of one life – your earthly existence – is the beginning of your new, eternal life. Accept the finality of your earthly associations, Lieb, in order for you to pass on into The Light.”
“I’m not so sure I want that.”
“Do not speak such nonsense, Lieb. And please watch your words and choose them carefully.”
“Maybe I should just wait here, in limbo: in ‘God’s Waiting Room’ as you call it. Yeah, I’ll just wait here till KC joins me.”
“What makes you think that is even an option Lieb? There is nothing you can do about…this. I am sorry. Let go of such fanciful dreams. Give it up, mein Lieb. Give yourself to eternal life. Let KC go now and you will one day be reunited in Paradise.” Anton showed his loving gray eyes to the man. “It is now time for you to move on.”
The man was shaken though still unbowed. And he changed his approach. “The Light is good and nice and attractive and all, Opa, but KC is very much a distraction for me. I was robbed of her and my family, and for no good reason.” He stressed those last three words.
“It was your time, Lieb. And now we are together once again.”
“For no good reason!” he repeated defiantly. “I was taken too soon! Way too soon, and I had a tough life. Let me tell you. I didn’t have enough time to make things right. Do something Anton! Do something.”
Anton looked a bit offended and a good deal exasperated. With the notion of his own progeny questioning the efficacy of such things, or the order of protocol; or even questioning the Authority itself! How can this be? “My direct descendant?” Opa had never imagined such rebelliousness from a member of his own family. He never dreamed of such a thing. “Lieb,” he finally said, “My people – our people – and those around us experienced a horrific twentieth century; and a very difficult nineteenth century before that. We all manage to live our lives on Earth and then pass on to something immeasurably greater. Remember, Lieb: I was there too. I was there in the same world as you. And I know what ‘tough’ is. Face facts, Lieb: People on Earth come and go; they pass on and a few are immortalized in history books. Passing into The Light is the true immortality for those who are worthy. There is an alternative, Lieb, and that is Oblivion. Perpetual and complete darkness. Fortunate souls, such as yours, are chosen to pass on to a kind of Heavenly in-between place, which is where we are now. You should be very pleased.”
“I should but I’m not,” he barked back. Then more softly he pleaded, “I need to see my kids Anton; I need to see them grow. And my wife; my wife needs me. And I need her.”
“KC no longer needs you in the ways you think.”
“So now you’re gonna hit me with that kind of remark! Look, how long have I been here?” He demanded to know that and looked Anton squarely in his eyes. “You’re hitting me below the belt, man, for what? To get what you want? Like I’m not even cold in the grave, man.”
“Your time on Earth has…passed. Now is the time for you to look toward The Light.”
Exhausted by the firmness of Anton’s words, and with a look as if he were daydreaming once again, the man suddenly demanded, “Send me back as a ghost or a Scribe, Anton. Please! Anything! Send me back like you were or like those other guys were, those Scribes. You know. You remember. You can make a case, can’t you?” And as his nerves rose, he hastily added, “Uh, you could send me down as a newborn baby, you know, a kid, a baby, anything. There’s got to be all kinds of possibilities there, man. I’ll have a full memory though. I need that. Stuff like that I’ll need. Come on Anton.” He was immersed in thoughtful desperation. “You know, like my memories will be clear at first, like in a movie, and then they can fade over time, say over the first few weeks of…my…life.”
“There are those for whom God renders His judgment to return to the world without recollection of their former existence. Believe me, Lieb, when I say you are fortunate that you are not one of those chosen, for they are condemned to a new life, with a fitting penance for their former existence. Lieb: Your mortal past was overwhelmed with other things. It has been rightly and entirely overwhelmed. Your past has truly passed. It has expired. Please, your life on Earth is over.” Anton looked at him pleadingly.
“You’re saying like if I tortured ants as a kid, I could come back as one?”
“Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. A killer of cows and cattle may find himself…remade into a cow. And God sometimes picks passing souls for new assignments, especially if it is appropriate to one’s past life’s behavior.” Opa leaned toward him and put forth a small sigh. “At the moment of death and the moment of conception, and for a short time after the moment of birth, a newborn knows when this has happened. Usually terror strikes; you know very well the sound of a newborn’s scream, Lieb.” And then with a wink Opa added, “This is why babies cry.”
“Like a Hindu’s ‘just desserts’,” the man murmured from his stone face, sullen with the very new reality which surrounded and suffocated him with a horrible dream from which he could not wake.
“Far better than the alternative, mein Lieb.” A dream state from which you never awake. Bad life, bad dreams.”