Episode 63: A heavenly protest, part two
The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 63: A heavenly protest, part two
by Steven C. Day
Faith without reason is slavery.
(Message posted in an obscure alleyway in the unfashionable Northern end of heaven)
One advantage to being a blob floating weightless, formless and invisible above heaven is that you have perfect objectivity. Lacking self-awareness, you have no motive to bend reality to meet your personal desires. You take the truth as you find it.
And the truth I found in heaven was both astonishingly beautiful and surprisingly disquieting.
Like all newbies, it had taken Horace some time to learn the heavenly ropes. But now, three months into his stay, things were starting to make sense: he had figured out, for example, that the never ending and seemingly random changing of the scenery around him — with, for example, a mountain village suddenly becoming a city street and then just as suddenly becoming a lush Midwestern farm — wasn’t the permanent face of paradise.
It was, instead, more of a virtual catalog — an endless stream of available “products,” thrown up, one after another, until you make your selection. Horace, for instance, initially decided on a whim to visit a seaside village in the South of Spain: to make this selection, all he had to do was to say the word “Here” after the village appeared around him and before the next jump occurred. Instantly, the waterfall of images froze in place, leaving him in Spain for however long he wanted to stay.
Later, when he became bored with Spain, he simply said, “Leave,” causing the cascade of images to start again — an endless parade of possibilities washing over him like the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the rocky coast of Maine. From time to time he’d stop the procession, lingering for a time here or there, trying various scenes on for size like a prom queen tearing through a store’s display racks looking for the perfect dress for her senior dance.
Here’s something that may surprise you, even disturb you, about heaven: most new arrivals tend to quickly lose interest in being reunited with lost loved ones. All of those heartfelt deathbed commitments that “I’ll see you on the other side” somehow never get arranged in the real afterlife. Like it or not, the fact is that the longer one remains in heaven, the more irrelevant former earthly connections become: one’s family and friends from the mortal world are just so then; heaven itself is so now.
So it was that Horace’s anguish over Tom and Winston’s damnation and eternal suffering began to dim. It still upset him when he thought about it, but thinking about it was something he did less and less often. And although I found this somewhat troubling as I floated there in the sky above heaven, I could certainly understand why it was happening: as the old song goes, “Sha-la-la-la-la-la, live for today.”
That’s the way souls feel in heaven. I think He makes them feel that way. It makes for “better” heavenly citizens.
But it turns out that there’s a flaw in the design. When you give hundreds of millions of people hundreds of millions of options of where to live and play, what happens is that you end up bringing people of similar interests together — including potential troublemakers. Since people in heaven have no need to compromise on their likes and dislikes, they tend to settle into the locations they love most. And, not surprisingly, similar people tend to love similar places.
In the case of Horace, and a small band of other potential heavenly troublemakers, that place had turned out to be a small tavern in South Dakota (or, to be completely accurate, a small tavern in a part of heaven made to look like South Dakota). It was called The Oddball Bar and Grill.
* * *
Herb was tending bar at The Oddball Bar and Grill. This was by choice, since no one has to work in heaven (George W. Bush should fit right in). A stockbroker during his life, Herb liked the fact he was now bartending. There was something solid about it, something real. Giving a thirsty soul a cold beer was an unqualified good, as he saw it. This was a million miles removed from his old life of cold calling strangers — often elderly folks he could tell had no business making such decisions — to try to get them to buy a stock they neither wanted nor needed in their portfolio.
He’d tell them “this one’s ready to take off,” when it actually was just on a list of stocks the brokerage house wanted pushed because it had an interest in them.
Looking to be about 50, with long white hair pulled back into a ponytail, Herb had John Brown eyes, intense, intelligent, with more than a hint of madness.
“Ready for a fresh one,” he grunted at Horace, who nodded yes.
Herb snapped his fingers and a beer materialized on the bar.
This was heaven, remember?
I told you that Herb tended bar. I didn’t tell you he had to work very hard at it.
As you might expect, given that I was a weightless, formless and invisible blob floating above heaven, no one offered me a drink — an act of rudeness that given I wasn’t self-aware at the time caused me no great offense. But Horace could taste his beer and since I could feel all of his feelings I can tell you with confidence that it was the best, coldest and freshest brew ever poured.
Being in heaven has its rewards.
The Oddball Bar and Grill doesn’t look anything like The Last Chance Democracy Café. There isn’t a hint of politics to it — no political posters or photographs of famous liberals, let alone anything like a BushSpeak Machine, Republican darts or a political jukebox. Actually, there isn’t much in the way of décor at the Oddball. It’s just an old-time neighborhood bar, the kind where the regulars all have their own special beer mugs stored for them behind the bar. The walls are tobacco stained, although no one has smoked in the place for many years. The lighting tends to be dim. It’s the kind of place where somehow it wouldn’t surprise you all that much if you saw Sam Spade sitting in one of the booths, drinking away a broken heart.
Despite all of the differences, however, as I think back (now that my self-awareness and memory have returned), I can see a clear kinship between the Oddball and The Last Chance Democracy Cafe.
Both are comfortable homes for natural born rebels.
There were six or seven other people scattered around the small tavern as Horace sat at the bar sipping his beer. They all had one thing in common: they weren’t just enjoying the many pleasures of heaven. To a certain degree, they were also hiding from them.
As strange as it may sound, it is possible, to some degree, to hide in heaven. No omnipotent being watches over people’s every move there. He has better things to do, I suppose. There are the security forces, of course, dressed in the same long white robs as the one worn by the nice young woman who processed Horace’s papers when he first arrived. And it’s well known snitches are everywhere, always pleased to report the slightest infraction against heavenly etiquette to the authorities. Sometimes the subjects of these reports disappear soon afterwards. No one actually knows where they disappear to, but people have a pretty good idea. So you have to be careful.
But there are times, nevertheless, when two or more souls become comfortable enough with each other — when they share enough trust — that they will let their celestial hair down.
This tended to happen quite often at the Oddball Bar and Grill.
Herb was polishing the bar top with a rag. He didn’t need to do this; bar tops, like everything else in heaven, are self-cleaning. But he seemed to like doing it.
He looked like he wanted to say something.
Whether in this world or the next, Horace, of course, is an expert at drawing people out. He slapped Herb softly on the shoulder. “You look like a man who’s got something on his mind,” he said.
Herb shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know, you probably wouldn’t be interested . . .”
Horace smiled wryly. “We’ve got an eternity in front of us, friend. It’s probably a good idea to develop as broad a range of interests as we can.”
Herb laughed, nodding slightly, and then in a slow, soft tone said, “This may seem like an odd question . . .”
“I like odd questions.”
Okay . . . well, then, tell me this: do you like it here in heaven?”
The question startled Horace. It was a question he’d been trying hard not to ask himself.
He shrugged after a moment, saying, “It’s heaven, what’s not to like . . . I guess.” There was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm in his voice.
“I suppose you’re right.” Herb stared at the counter in front of him, clearly dissatisfied with the answer. “The thing is,” he started in again, speaking even more quietly, his eyes pensive and strikingly unJohn Brown like, “I used to know this girl . . . We dated for awhile, until she dumped me because I was such a jerk.”
“I’m sure that’s a bit of an overstatement,” smiled Horace sympathetically.
“No, I’m afraid it isn’t. I really was a hell of an asshole. I thought I was hot stuff . . . the king of the world. You know, a big shot Wall Street account representative for a Fortune 500 firm. I was on top of the world . . . and she, well . . . she was a school teacher. When she left she told me that I didn’t respect her.” Herb slid his hand down the back of his ponytail then jerked the bottom angrily. “And the worst thing about it was that she was she was right.”
There are times to talk and times to keep your mouth shut. Horace, who has a knack for keeping the two straight, didn’t say a word.
Herb continued, “Looking back now, I know that she was a much better person than I was . . . by a long shot. She taught in underfunded urban schools, fighting to give poor kids some kind of a chance. Yet, she’s in hell because she didn’t believe in the right version of God. All I did was try to make money by suckering people into buying bullshit investments. A lot of the time I had no reason to think that what I was selling was even the appropriate kind of investment for them. There are a lot of ethical brokers out there: I just wasn’t one of them. But I got religion after I found out about the cancer, so I get to spend forever in paradise. I don’t deserve it. It isn’t right.”
Horace nodded slowly, gathering his thoughts, trying to think of something supportive to say without seeming trite. Finally he said, “We all have regrets. I know I do. But at least we’ve got an eternity to try to make things right. To try . . .”
Herb raised his eyebrows. “So, have you been doing a lot of that since you got to heaven, Horace? I mean, contributing to other people? Fighting injustice? Giving back? I can’t say that I have. And I haven’t seen a lot of evidence that anybody else is. It’s all about having a good old time up here.”
Words can sting worse than a lemon smeared across a fresh paper cut. Even in heaven. Horace felt like he’d been hit at close range by a shotgun blast. It isn’t that he hadn’t thought about it — about his friends burning in agony while he partied hardy. He’d just never let himself think about it too much, not since that horrible day at the Wall of Damnation. Suddenly he felt shame like none he’d ever experienced before.
Damn it, Horace’s thoughts exploded inside him. He’d spent almost his entire life fighting injustice, fighting Jim Crow racial discrimination, fighting economic injustice and fighting against the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. But now, here at the end, he was seeing the worst sort of injustice imaginable being directed against his best friends — good and honorable men — who were being tortured through all eternity by a supposedly loving God. Was he really going to stand mute? Was he really going to do nothing?
Horace held out his hand. Surprised, Herb extended his and the two men shook hands. “Thank you, sir,” said Horace, his voice calm and confident. “Thanks for reawakening my conscience. And thanks for reminding me what it is about myself that’s always allowed me to hold my head high. And thanks for reminding me of one other thing: That injustice must always be opposed, wherever it occurs.”
Herb grinned, the wildness back in his eyes. “Oh, Lord, that sounds like trouble!”
“You’ve got that right,” Horace smiled back. “I think the time’s come for us to start raising a little hell here in heaven.”
* * *
For part III of A Heavenly Protest go here.
* * *
Check out our episodes archive.
* * *
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 27 years. Contact Steven at .
© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001
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June 30th, 2007 at 8:35 am
i really don’t like your heaven, Steven
alas, as in my daily life, i guess, i would prefer loss for leisure, because you have to be able to live with yourself (imagine an eternity of regret!) - but i guess, like Tom and Winston i wouldn’t be asked…
go, Horace, go!