By: Etai Shuchatowitz
Father Joseph always looked both ways before crossing the street. People criticized him for doing it – said that it illustrated hypocrisy – but he always assumed that God wasn’t there to intervene unless the universe needed it. But today, none of that mattered. Because today, as Father Joseph crossed the street, a big eighteen-wheeler came and knocked him over, killing him immediately.
He had never died before. He constantly spoke about it as if he had, but he had never actually experienced what it felt like. He assumed it was a very meaningful experience if ever there was one. He assumed that, you die, then you go to heaven, then you party with God and the angels. And then…well, he never thought that far in advance.
It was more painful than he imagined. It didn’t feel significant in the moment, but then again, what does? It seemed to him that significance is a term only labeled to things in past tense. He struggled for life for a bit. And then, just like in the goddamn movies…his whole life flashed before his eyes. He saw his brother die of cancer again. He saw his son get taken by Social Services. He saw his wife leave him with nothing. And he saw himself become close to God.
When he finally got to the Pearly Gates, and saw Peter standing there, his heart almost…well, he no longer had a heart to stop. But, if he had, he was sure it would’ve stopped.
“Hello Father Joseph. Welcome to Heaven,” Peter said with a smile. He looked different from the pictures. Darker skinned. And then there was the lack of any-
“You don’t have a beard,” Father Joseph remarked. Peter let out a loud, booming laugh. The kind that only nice people earn.
“I just shaved. That ragged thing looks horrible. Makes me look homeless. I figured I needed to be a little more representable if I’m the one admitting people to Heaven.”
“Wow. This is amazing. Is everybody here? Everybody from history?”
“Well, everybody was here at some point or another. But, not everybody stays.”
“Why wouldn’t they stay. It’s heaven!”
“Some people can’t handle it I guess. Would you like to go in?” Father Joseph looked at him and didn’t know what to respond. Turns out he didn’t need to because as soon as Peter saw his face, he smiled and opened up the gates.
Father Joseph took a few steps forward and knew he was in the right place. Everything was light, it was warm, people smiled. Nothing like back on Earth where people gave him strange looks for dressing like a priest. Nothing like back on Earth where people were violent. Where people stole, murdered, lied and cheated. Everything was great here. He walked around and saw people talking and laughing. It made him glad that he was good his entire life and had devoted everything to being here. He had worked hard, and it had paid off. I guess it’s true what they say, good things happen to those who wait and-
“Joseph!” He looked up. No. No way. This couldn’t be real. This was too good to be true.
They ran towards each other, two brothers separated by time and a horrible illness that brought with it three years of hell on Earth.
“Joseph, what are you-? How did you-? What’s going on? How did you-?”
“I was run over by a truck.”
Father Joseph stared at his brother, more confused than anything else. “Jacob, are you okay?”
He thought back to when they were kids and Jacob was full of life. They used to play in the treehouse and watch action movies together. And when Jacob got married and kept proclaiming how much he loved life, taking advantage of every piece of excitement he could.
But, now when Jacob talked it wasn’t as if he was excited to see his brother. It wasn’t like he was excited about heaven. Jacob just looked – tired wouldn’t be the right word, he was too awake for that. No. He looked…almost bored. He wasn’t even asking questions. Just kind of commenting on how things are.
“So, how long do you think you’ll be here?” Joseph asked with seeming indifference.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I mean, you don’t want to be here forever. Do you?”
Father Joseph swallowed hard, trying to make sense of what Jacob was asking. But, it just wasn’t coming together..
“I don’t follow.”
“Why did you keep giving sermons about me?” Jacob asked with a hint of animosity in his voice.
“Why did you keep mentioning me in your sermons?”
“Because I cared about you and thought that it would-Why are you even asking me this?”
Jacob just smiled at him, knowingly. It was the kind of smile that bothered Father Joseph to no end. Just before he was going to admonish his brother for his questions Jacob was gone. Just like that, no goodbye, no reason, no nothing. Just up and gone.
It didn’t take too long to learn the rules: you had to stay in heaven as long as people on Earth spoke about you. Once they stopped, you could leave whenever you wanted. But here he was, three months in and wondering why anybody would want to leave. It was perfect here. There was no racism to sermon about. There was no hate. No violence. Everybody just agreed about everything because death just gives you the perspective life never could.
This continued for months until one day it stopped being fun. It was just kind of boring. Day in and day out, always “enjoying yourself”, there must be something more. There’s gotta be. Father Joseph looked around, wondering what everybody was doing. He decided to approach Peter. He would have the answers.
“Peter, sorry to bother you, but I think I’m ready to end the vacation part and start doing something.”
“Oh, hello Father Joseph. What is it that you would like to be doing?”
“I don’t know what there is to do.”
“Well, did you go swimming today?”
“You could go swimming again?” Peter said, clearly not understanding Father Joseph.
“No, I mean, on Earth I was working towards heaven. I was fighting poverty and injustice and mourning my brother. Here, I can’t do any of that.”
“Well, maybe heaven isn’t for you then.”
Father Joseph couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Heaven is for him?! What is that supposed to mean? He had worked his entire life for this. He was finally here. How could it be that heaven isn’t for him?
“People are done talking about you, so it’s up to you, Father,” Peter said as if he knew what Father Joseph would pick.
Father Joseph thought long and hard. He wasn’t giving up that easily. He would endure if he had to. He would spend an eternity if he-
He realized right then what was upon him. He wasn’t here for a few minutes, days or years. This was forever. An eternity of swimming. An eternity of niceties with people who were friendly enough. An eternity of boredom.
“Alright, I think I want out,” Father Joseph said with a tinge of pain in his voice.
“I figured as much.”
Father Joseph swallowed hard before saying,
“What comes next? What’s after heaven?”
“Nobody knows. We’ve all spent eternity here trying to figure this place out. And nobody’s been able to fully get it. But, we’re certain there’s something more here.”
Nobody knows where I’m going. The gravity of the situation was much larger than he had anticipated. But, it didn’t matter.
“I’m ready,” Father Joseph looked into Peter’s eyes as he pointed his fingers at him. He was scared, he would admit to that. He didn’t know what was coming. Or even, if anything at all was coming. He didn’t know anything. He closed his eyes with no idea what to expect. And all he could think was, I really don’t want to go swimming again.