Heaven & Hell Revisited

Today I had lunch with two of my closest high school friends. All three of us are seventy-four years old, in pretty good health, and can mentally hold our own. The main differences between today and back then is we are all more gnarly and we move slower. Anyway, when we were saying goodbye one of us suggested we have lunch again, “before one of us dies!” For whatever reason the following story I wrote in 2004 came to mind so I decided to republish it. Enjoy!

A Few Thoughts On Heaven and Hell
Published June, 2004

As of this month, I am officially an old person. I recently turned age 62, filed for Social Security and within days should receive my first Social Security check. So, now that I’m old I’ve decided to spend a little time thinking about heaven and hell: since that’s what old people seem to do a lot.

We all know about the heaven and hell of the Bible but there are lots of others, especially hells, of a more worldly nature. For example, General William Tecumseh Sherman once uttered something about war being hell while General George Patton felt that war glorified the best in humanity.

Comedian Tim Wilson wrote a song about “Chucky Cheese Hell” in which he described the torment of taking his child to Chucky Cheese’s Pizza for a birthday party. My wife and I did this when our son turned 6. We hauled him and a vanload of his 6-year old Helion friends to Chucky Cheese’s in Dayton. What in the hell were we thinking?

Another form of hell is related to thinking back on the opportunities you let slip through your fingers when you were younger. In the mid-1960s I had an opportunity to buy 100 acres of wooded land in Ross County for less than $75 an acre. Financing was a problem but if I’d been a little more aggressive, creative or energetic, I could have overcome that. Today, I’m told, 5-acre wooded building lots are easily bringing over $15,000. Yet another great chance, shot to hell!

A category of hell that I know you’re all acquainted with is the “how in the hell” hell. It includes such things as, “How in the hell did cars start costing more than I paid for my first house?” Or, “How in the hell did gasoline get over $2 a gallon?” It would be heavenly if only our incomes would keep up with such hellishness.

There is a growing category of experiences that fall into a type of hell known as “collectible hell.” When most of us were children the word collectable hadn’t been coined yet. People talked about antiques but antiques inferred furniture and we kids didn’t own, or want to own, any furniture. We wanted, and got, toys; and as you may know, those toys are now collectibles and are bring huge dollars on eBay.

Several years ago I attended an auction in Wilmington and watched a Lionel train set sell for well over $1000. It was identical to the one I had owned as a kid and which my mother had given to my younger cousin when she was sorting through my things after I had left home and entered the Navy. The last time I saw that train it was half buried in the sandbox behind my aunt’s house. We’ll call this Lionel hell.

Then there’s Roy Rogers Hell. Just give a little thought to what you once owned that was emblazoned with the names Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy. Let’s see, I had RR boots, RR hat, RR gloves (with fringe), RR matching cap pistols with genuine RR leather holsters, RR lunch box and a wooden RR stick horse named Trigger. I haven’t a clue to whatever happened to any of this stuff but if it survived, I bet someone made a hell of a lot of money from it at an auction.

Another terra firma hell could be titled bicycle spoke hell. This is where you spend time reflecting on the number of 1947 Jackie Robinson rookie baseball cards you clothes pinned to the spokes of your balloon tired Roadmaster Luxury Liner and became “too cool” as you circled the neighborhood. By the way, a 1953 Roadmaster Luxury Liner in restored condition is worth over $2000. Ain’t that hell?

Now this may not be true for you, but for me it seems a lot easier coming up with examples of hell than it is for examples of heaven. That may be due to there being a greater certainty that a Biblical heaven is not in the baseball cards for me.

One example of earthly heavens for me, however, is any time spent in search of, and enjoying the fruits of, good barbecue restaurants. I recently ate pulled pork at a restaurant in Franklin, TN and a heavenly chorus accompanied every bite. The devil kept interfering with my pleasure, however, because I couldn’t keep my eyes off the two women sitting in a booth near me and wondering how they could be satisfied eating their tossed salads and sipping their artificially sweetened iced tea. Beats the hell out of me.

While the Biblical heaven and hell may be eternal, many of the earthly examples aren’t. For a number of years I lived in a kind of daily hell associated with knowing that my daughter Kris’ bedroom was in a state of mess that would have made the Bible’s hell look attractive. When Kris graduated from high school and left for college her mother gave the room a thorough cleaning and we entered into a state of heavenly bliss. The next summer Kris returned home and all hell broke out!

It may appear that I’ve not been serious in my considerations of heaven and hell, but I assure you that I have. Like every thinking person, I’ve given these subject lots of attention. However, I remain uncertain about what destiny may have in store for me, or even if there is such a thing as heaven or hell. Maybe I’m what George Carlin describes as a Frisbeetarian. That’s someone who believes that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck!

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