You see I’ve always wanted to believe in heaven.
When I was a little girl and Santa’s beard fell off to reveal Uncle Seymour, I dropped my belief in Santa. I took Santa Seymour’s gifts with sadness, because Mr. Claus was for me no more. Heaven was different. I held on to heaven right up to my first double-digit birthday. You see, I missed some dead people so much. I wanted to believe they had landed somewhere friendly and warm, floating on a cloud, with room one day for me. I would arrive up there and meet them and they’d be so happy to see me. They would notice how beautifully I had grown up and how pretty my hair was long.
Now, when Grandma Celia died, she went straight to heaven. At that moment heaven was still a certainty to me. I was seven and I didn’t question Grandma’s arrival there because she had always called me her angel. She had loved me and kissed me more than a million and had made hot soup for colds and sweet desserts just because. Yet when I was nine and a half, Grandpa Louis died in his sleep. Then I began to wonder. You see, Celia and Louis were always disagreeing about things. I didn’t think that could happen in heaven. No arguing. You had to be peaceful up there. In addition, just a few months after Grandma Celia died, my family was taken by surprise, because Grandpa Louis had found a new wife – Dorothy Rabin. This shotgun wedding, just months after Grandma Celia’s departure, was troubling for my concept of heaven. For Celia would not have liked the fact that Dorothy had married quarrelsome Grandpa Louis. Dorothy had been Grandma Celia’s closest-dearest-confidant and friend on earth. So, by the time I was double-digit ten (a day I had long waited for), I dropped my notion of heaven and deemed it a fairytale – continuing to live wistfully, in full doubt, for many decades. Yes, it happened, conclusively, the day I blew ten candles out with one for good luck – that was the day Grandma left heaven for dead.
Recently I went to a funeral mass where the Grandma who died was proclaimed to have left the earth and was by God’s side. There was choir singing and glorious organ music. There was incense swinging and no air-conditioning in the church. I fell under a celestial spell. The sonorous priest knew, without a doubt, that this Grandma was heaven-sent and had gone to a better place. He rejoiced in the fact that in heaven a joyful reunion would take place with her brothers and sisters and pre-deceased husband, etc. The priest also knew that this Grandma was looking down on her many grandchildren and would “guide their way into the light of eternity.” He knew it for sure, and the grandkids knew it for sure, and so did most of the people there who sang prayers that they knew by heart, kneeled when told, rose when asked and most importantly knew not to applaud when each hymn was over.
I was a stranger to this. I just couldn’t accept it. For me this cloud paradise didn’t add up. I am too logical I guess. I don’t have the gift of belief. Not that I didn’t want it. Who wanted life to end in a dead end? But I had no choice. I guess you could blame it on Grandma Celia and Grandpa Louis’s arguing and the scandal with Dorothy.
I left the church estranged. I was now well into my double-digit birthdays. I remembered clearly the day I was ten and turned away from Cloud Nine. My inquisitions into heaven would stop at the planetarium, in the Museum of Natural History on 81st Street and Central Park West. I would have to exchange the hereafter for here and now. I would have to face my atheist self, and exist in the occasional solace of living daylight. I would try to find heaven in children, in the sun, in the moon, in the stars, in work, in the laughter, in the tears, in the friends, in the moments of life that were within life – moments that would never be again.
“Quelle dommage,” I thought. How much I yearn for the heaven train to give me a ride – but I simply can’t find that ticket.