For my father
After a long, eventful life and a mercifully brief illness a man named
David died quietly in his bed. His wife of forty-six years was at his side,
as were his children, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren.
As he closed his eyes, David was surprised to see not darkness, but
brilliant light. He felt as if his very soul was rising out of his weary
bodyas indeed it was. Irresistibly he was drawn upward. There was a tug of
sadness as he left his family behindand a thrill of wonder as he felt
himself pass through a sort of doorway or opening. But there was no fear.
He was in a featureless space, full of bright white light. Before him,
seated at a plain wooden table, sat a figure robed in the same white light.
David looked into his eyes and was overcome with a feeling of pure, calm,
"Hello, David." The voice was warm and familiar.
"Hello." His voice (still his voice!) was a stammer.
"It's my job to welcome you to the afterlife." The figure smiled. "No,
that's not quite right: it's my privilege."
David was speechless. He felt small and unworthy before this being of
"I know what you're thinking, David. You think that you don't really belong
here. That you haven't done anything very good, or very important, in your
life. That you're just an ordinary man. Am I right?"
"Well, you might be surprised to find out that many of our leading citizens
felt the very same way when they arrived. You know, we take notice of even
the smallest thoughts and deeds. You actually did quite a lot of good during
your time on earth. You were a loving, faithful husband. A good, giving
father. You were honest in your business life. Those things count pretty
heavily up here. And you were always kind to your animals."
It was David's turn to smile. Yes, he had had many dogs during his long
life. And they had always filled a very special place in his heart.
Unbidden, memories came rushing back: memories of a sweet little Beagle, a
ladylike black Cocker Spaniel, a feisty WireHaired Fox Terrier, and two
silly, wonderful Kerry Blue Terriersthe two dogs he had loved the best.
"Yes, yes, we're the ones who keep track of the sparrows and the field mice,
remember? So your kindness to so many dogs weighed rather heavily in your
"I understand. But "
The angel (he was an angel, of course) held up his hand and shook his head
kindly. "You have a thousand questions, I know. What about the loved ones
you've left behind? What about the loved ones who went before you? What
happens now what's it like to live in Heaven?"
"Well, I can't answer all of your questions at once. Rest assured: you will
not be separated from those you love. And as for the housing arrangements"
he rose from the desk "let's take a little tour." The angel waved his
hand, and (without any sensation of movement) they were instantly elsewhere.
This was a very different place: it looked and felt very human, very normal.
They were on an ordinary, quiet street, standing in front of a clapboard
house, and it was an early Autumn evening. The angel's hand was on the
"Go on in," he said. "This is your house."
Confused, David did as he was told. He swung open the gate and walked up to
the greenpainted front door; the knob felt oddly familiar in his hand. The
door was unlocked. He walked in.
Feelings, sights, sounds, even smellsthey washed over him. He knew this
house. Surely it was the little house he grew up in; yes, there was the old
china closet in the corner, and there was the ticking cuckoo clock that had
so fascinated him as a child. But no! This was his own house, the house he
had bought, with a borrowed fivehundreddollar deposit, after the war. The
house his children had grown up in. Yes, of course there was the mark on
the baseboard molding where little Billy had rollerskated through the
"It's both of those houses, David." The angel grinned. "It's a house built
from your memories. That's the way architecture works up here."
But it was more than the rooms, more than the sofas and lamps and tables.
There were people coming to greet him, their arms outstretched. His eyes
filled with tears.
"Yes, David, we're here." He had almost forgotten the sound of his father's
deep voice. "And there's Uncle Will, and Aunt Sophie, and Cousin Michael.
We're all here, boy! And we've been looking forward to this day for a long,
The next few hours or was it days? were a blur of meetings, handshakes,
embraces, many tears and much laughter. His mother's perfume. His
grandfather's crooked smile. His brother's first wife, killed so long ago in
that car accident: he had forgotten how very beautiful she was. And the
taste of his grandmother's apple cobblerwas it possible that he had lost
that memory over the long years? He was overwhelmed, lost in the rush of
emotions. It was a profound relief when he felt a strong, gentle pressure on
his arm: the angel's hand, leading him toward the kitchen doorway. It was
warm in this bright, quiet room, with the late sunlight flooding through the
"It's a lot to take in all at once, I know. I thought you might need a
moment to yourself."
"Thank you." David nodded. "But my family" he began, gesturing toward the
crowded living room.
"Don't worry, David, they won't be offended. There's time here, time for
every last conversation, every last cup of coffee, every last song, every
last game of catch." The angel smiled broadly. "You'll have to get used to
the idea that noone here is going anywhere. You're all done with saying
goodbye to the ones you love. You can't lose them anymore."
As the meaning of the angel's words sank in, David felt a deep sense of
peace and acceptance spreading through him. But strangely, incongruously,
there was a pang of emptiness as well. How could that be? He was in
Heavenhealed of his sickness and sorrows. His lost loved ones were all
around him, and he knew, with a certainty beyond certainty, that his family
on earth would join him in due time. What else was there to want, to long
"I know what you're thinking, David. It isn't quitecomplete, is it?"
"Wellno, it isn't." He felt ashamed, ungrateful. "I can't explain it, but
it's true. Maybe I don't belong here after all."
"Nonsense. Maybe I can explain it for you." The angel glanced toward a row
of wooden pegs by the back door. David's eyes followed. On each peg hung a
dog leash, its leather shiny with use. "There are still a few old friends
you haven't seen, Davidisn't that right?"
As if in answer, there was a sound of paws at the back door, and a chorus of
eager barks: the special welcome saved for a master long missed.
"Yes, they're all here, David. You see, you haven't quite finished the tour.
You've seen the house. Now it's time to see the yard."