"At this very moment, Joe is face to face with the almighty. What do you suppose Joe is asking him?" These profound words offered by the priest at a funeral I recently attended startled me into wondering what my own questions might be when I stand before my maker. This introspective challenge played on my mind, and I amused myself by posing the question to friends and family in the days that followed. The topic made for some stimulating conversation. Everyone had something to say.
I would first ask, "Where are my parents?" But there were so many more possibilities. "What are the loved ones I left behind saying about me?" "Why do children suffer?" "Did you forgive Adolf?" And the inevitable, "Why can't Buffalo teams win a championship?"
My daughter wanted to know, "Why did you create men when women would be fine by themselves?" "Do you like movies about gladiators?" Friends added, "Do you serve wine up here?" "Where's my pet?" "Why was it such a struggle to be good?" My teenage son was practical, "What kind of music do you like?" "Do you like burritos?" "Why are parents so bossy?"
Conversation about the afterlife had not been this fun since my children cornered me with "Mom, what is heaven like?" As a parent, I dreaded these obscure questions, but appreciated that no one had the real answer, so no matter what I conjured up, I couldn't be wrong (I may be struck down by my former Catholic school nuns for saying so). I explained that having never been there, I couldn't say for sure, but I like to think that heaven is custom-made for each of us based on our earthly passions.
Off the top of my head, I surmised that my idea of heaven is living next door to a professional baseball stadium where every day I watch the former Mets beat the former Yankees. Each game I have someone different to smile with -- a friend or relative on one side of me and a special guest (John Belushi, Erma Bombeck, Jerry Garcia, Mother Teresa) on the other, and we sip beer, eat peanuts and chat the day away. Bickering, political correctness, money and gossip are non-existent, and most things are purple.
My son countered with the thought of zipping around on a Ferrari go-kart (his invention) and hanging out with George Harrison and John Lennon. He will eat pasta in a house with ski lifts instead of stairs, a recording studio, a giant mechanic shop and an arcade room. Nice!
Common belief systems offer us images of a bright light, angels, clouds and whispers. Yet comprehension of the afterlife is uniquely individual, including whether or not there's anything there at all. It is the one true great mystery of mankind.
How refreshing that the answers about heaven are not within the grasp of our culture's need for instant gratification; exempt from the obligatory appearance on Facebook and Twitter. It is still one of the few precious entities left that is only accessible through story and imagination.
Many of us would like to have a sneak preview of what it might be like, yet few of us are in any hurry to find out for ourselves. As the priest also mentioned, "I have yet to have anyone come back and tell me what the great beyond is like." I haven't had that privilege either, but that's OK. I'll leave it up to speculation, and hope that whatever is there works for all of us. By the way, what would you ask?