Will Rogers’ Wish
by Jo Wharton Heath
The light is dim. I’m confined in a box. When I sit up, I figure the top of the box must’ve been an illusion. Heavens, I didn’t feel it.
As I climb out, I see I’m in a room with sunshine streaming through one small high window, and the room is full of... caskets? Hell! I glance back at my box. Double hell! It’s a casket too, a closed one with white flowers on top. Then I remember the big truck coming right at my car and I’m thinking I’m going to die.
What about Scout? Heavens! He was in the back seat. Ah, not to worry. That dog is tough as nails. He’s probably at home right now waiting for me. I’m going to miss that mongrel.
But wait, if that’s me in the box, who am I? A ghost? A soul? Wouldn’t a soul be on its way, up or down? I wish now I’d paid more attention in Sunday school, I’d know what to do. On the other hand, philosophizing has never been my thing.
Ah, well. I set out to explore my new world. I try to grab the doorknob but find it’s not needed. I march right through the door. Ha! I must be a ghost; ghosts walk through doors.
I hear the murmur of people in the distance and I head for the sound. It’s fun to stroll in and out of rooms. In one of them, a guy in a black suit studies himself in a wall mirror as he tries to knot a black tie. A woman sits in a chair watching him. “Should I say really good things about the guy?” the man asks. “I’d like to think I might help him get into heaven.”
The woman laughs. “Once a life is led, ain’t nobody can change the direction: heaven or hell is set in stone.”
I wince at this thought.
The man frowns. “How do you know?”
She shrugs. “Your job is to make anyone who misses him feel better.”
“Exactly!” he says. “They want to know he’s getting into heaven. Yeah. I’ll say good things. I’ll go ask his friends what his good things are. Or were.”
Excellent! I wait patiently for him to finish with the tie, and the two of us head toward the sound of voices, not that he knows there’re two of us. When we enter a large room, I see people from work standing around in small groups. I’m disappointed by the size of the crowd. Maybe it’s early and more are coming.
Wearing now a professional long grim face, the man in the dark suit and tie approaches my buddy Craig. After solemn introductions, he asks Craig, “What will you miss the most about Thomas?” Craig gets thoughtful.
“Well,” he finally answers, “Tom was a hardworking guy. He’ll be missed at the office.”
Me, hardworking? That’s a laugh! How about the good times we had drinking beer and shooting the bull, or the time he borrowed my best umbrella and lost it and I said forget about it, or the whole time I knew all about him and Barbara and never told anybody? Come on, Craig, think, think!
But my disappointment in Craig is just the beginning. Nobody Mr. Dark interviews has a better endorsement than the hogwash about my working hard. Maybe I should’ve worried a little more about going to Hell. The woman’s description “set in stone” is depressing.
To get my mind off my dubious future, I wander over to the refreshment table with paper cups of water and little mints. It’ll be fun to eat some. Everyone will be amazed to see candy being pulverized in mid-air by invisible teeth and pulsed down with a swallow into an air pocket.
But I can’t pick one up. When I try, my fingers go right through. Hell. Being a ghost/soul means seeing and hearing but not doing or feeling. Still, it’s probably better than what’s ahead.
I go outside and notice that I don’t get cold even though I’m in my shirtsleeves and there’s snow on the ground. I can stare directly at the sun and not blink. On the road, I stand right in front of a speeding truck and feel nothing when it roars through me.
When I return, the service is well under way. My friends are sitting and watching Mr. Dark, who stands talking near my flower-covered casket at the front, and there’s not a wet eye in the house.
“I spoke with you, Thomas’s closest friends,” Mr. Dark says, “and everyone agrees that Thomas, the dearly departed, worked hard. Consider this: we’ve all heard, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’.
“So one assumes that meekness is on the approved handicap list. It follows that the opposite of meek, pushy, is a biblical bad thing. Now think about it: there’s no scripture that says, ‘Blessed are the lazy, for they will... uh... be rewarded something.’ What does that tell you? It tells you that laziness has not been approved. Working hard, the opposite of lazy, must therefore be a biblical good thing.” He smiles triumphantly at his logical masterpiece.
Hell! Can’t Mr. Dark come up with something better than one dubious biblical good thing?
Disgusted with my funeral, my friends, and my future, I head home to see if I can help Scout somehow. It’s a long walk, but I don’t get tired. When I’m almost there, I see him ahead on the sidewalk!
“Scout,” I call out, forgetting the dog can’t hear me. But he barks back, and damned if he isn’t looking at me. “I’m so glad,” I say, “to find you and see you’re okay!”
He barks twice to answer and walks right through a fire hydrant.
“Sorry, Scout.” My wonderful dog hears the sorrow in my voice, and when he rubs up against my leg to comfort me, I feel it. I feel it! I reach down and give him a few good solid pats. I’m more than pleased. I know now I’m a soul, a soul assigned to dog heaven.
Not bad, considering.
If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die,
I want to go where they went. — Will Rogers
Copyright © 2013 by Jo Wharton Heath