I did a Google search on the word “heaven” and came up with 196 million hits, which seems like a lot of information about a place that (a) none of us has actually been to; and (b) may not even exist.
While references to heaven frequently appear in popular songs (“Stairway to Heaven,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and “Tears in Heaven” just to name three), you really don’t hear regular people talk much about heaven these days. And those who do seem mainly interested in pointing out why most of the rest of us will never get there.
The traditional image of heaven is undeniably quaint and outdated. No one really buys the notion of cute little angels playing their tiny harps as they hover over streets of gold. Maybe heaven was never really anything more than wish fulfillment to begin with, a pleasant fantasy, sort of like imagining the Mariners in the World Series. Karl Marx and his brother Groucho famously argued that heaven was an illusion, a sentimental dream world meant to distract good working men and women from the disappointments and suffering of this earthly life. Heaven has always been a sort of blank cosmic screen upon which we poor humans project whatever we want.
When I was young, my concept of heaven included those puffy clouds, soaring white columns, and lots of golden-haired angels walking around polishing their halos and strumming harps, or in some cases, polishing off a few Harps while playing Halo. (For those of you over 40, “Halo” is evidently some kind of game or cult, or both, that you play on-line or on an X-Box or in an iPod or something, and involves fighting imaginary battles with fellow gamers in places like Gorst and Australia while wearing special Halo clothing and skipping your math homework in order to set a personal best score).
As I grew older, I began to imagine heaven as a well-stocked library with a built-in coffee and donut bar. (Come to think of it, the Barnes and Noble people may owe me some royalty checks for stealing my idea.) I really hadn’t thought much more about heaven until a couple Saturdays ago when I had some time to kill waiting for the library to open – who knew the library doesn’t open until 1 p.m. on Saturdays?
I decided to wander down to the Harbour House Pub for lunch. While waiting for my lunch, I enjoyed a refreshing adult beverage in a moderate and responsible manner, and started reading a book called “Heaven.” (By the way, if there were a few more books on the wall and a few less people on the stools next to me wanting to talk about the weather, the Harbour House could easily nose out the library as my favorite place to read. The lighting at the Pub isn’t quite as good as it is at the library, but it’s a lot easier to get a drink there.)
“Heaven” is a collection of essays about heaven by pastors, artists, historians, poets, therapists and novelists. None of the essays described heaven as a place above the clouds where you go to after you die. Most of the people in the book associated heaven with a particular consciousness rather than a place. “Heaven” was a good book and I recommend it. It goes particularly well with fish tacos and a cold Hale’s.
And speaking of reading, books, authors, and lunch, you can sample a little bit of each today at 11:30 at Wing Point Country Club. The Bainbridge Schools Foundation is hosting a benefit luncheon to celebrate island authors and raise money for Bainbridge Island School District reading programs. Come on by. You can support a good cause and enjoy a good lunch at the same time. And if that’s not some sort of heaven, I don’t know what is.
Islander Tom Tyner is an attorney
for the Trust for Public Land. He is author
of “Skeletons From Our Closet,”
a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.