I don’t know what heaven’s like. Sometimes I imagine, though.
Do souls remember each other? From their days on earth, on solid ground.
Do they have a level of souldom beyond anything we, living humans, can understand? Like, do they know the code? And do they make new connections with fascinating souls who lived centuries ago? Or do they still hang with the same folks they knew from human times, old friends from their lives, the lives they lived here?
Ahh, I don’t know. What do you think?
Is there still pride? And egos? Music and noise?
Are they sitting around a table? Laughing out loud. Joking. Telling stories.
Excitement and high pitched voices. Nothing you could recognize as words. It wouldn’t be going too far to call it squealing.
The sound of kids. The sound of kids heading somewhere with the pace they use when it’s just them. Kids with no grown-ups holding them back. Like … FREEDOM!
After a full minute of just sounds moving up the trail, two boys came around the bend on bikes. Maybe eight years old. Helmets. Full speed. Wheels bouncing over bumpy dirt. You know the rhythm of left/right, left/right. That standing-up kind of pedaling kids use when they want to go as fast as they can. All the time, their almost-yelling-we’re-so-excited-voices. Not indoor voices. No, definitely outdoor voices.
They looked and sounded like they’d been in timeout for a week, and were just released. Or they were pals who hadn’t seen each other for a long time. They sounded like it was Halloween night, and they just left home for a couple hours of fun, fun, fun. It sounded like the last day of school, in normal times.
In a room that’s dark, but for the glow of a reader, everything’s still and the day’s chores are done. A minute for the brain to shift reality. Then, on cue, characters find their places in the plot, and slowly start up where they left off, with footsteps, stealthy footsteps. And their flaws, and missteps.
They creep along, close to the ground. And stop long enough to peak out, from the shelter of a field that lies quiet, below a sky that hasn’t changed yet, from evening to night. It’s July, and the damp air lingers with the smell of dirt, and vegetation, and tension. They rise up, so they’re almost standing, and stare past the tall stalks, into a clearing. And then stunned and silent, they fall back. Without even time to digest and recalculate their surroundings, they hear words in the distance. Far-off words, words that should be silent and mysterious, hang with invisible clarity in the air overhead, in that place where hope evaporates to sky.
A year in pandemic is a bit like a long afternoon on the front porch. The same kind of boredom, but without the pleasant sense of relaxing. The same kind of inertia, but without the sweet breeze playing at the hair on the back of your head.
After months and months, the possibility you’ll come up with some motivation to think, oh yeah, that’s what I want to do…that possibility’s remote. It’s more like, let’s see, you ought to get up and clean out a couple of drawers. The other day I found a dollar bill in an old purse I hadn’t used in years. There was a spark of excitement, sort of delight, that lasted about one minute. Maybe I hoped it was a twenty dollar bill. At least a five.
We learned about souls in the first or second grade, not long after we learned about God. Maybe it was part of getting ready for our first confession. Preparing…that’s what they called it…preparing for our first confession.
There’s a soul in us, they said, in the middle of us, and it wasn’t our heart. Other than that, they were fuzzy on the details. They didn’t tell us how it looked, like they might if it was an arm or leg, or even a stomach or brain. What I do remember was that we are born with a clean soul. Before you got old enough to sin, your soul is clean. Perfectly clean.
Then you sin, and it’s not so clean. If you sin a lot, if you commit a mortal sin, or even multiple mortal sins, your soul turns. Then, if you go to confession, and say your penance, it gets washed clean again.
Back then, I pictured the soul like a circle. It wasn’t in my heart, and it wasn’t in my head, but somewhere else inside me. It was a very nuanced part of our being, although I knew nothing of nuance and I had a very mixed up idea of what it was to be a being. So I pictured the soul like what I would describe now as a pie chart. If you’ve been good, you have a nice clean circle, and if you’ve been bad, well, you can picture that pie chart.
Tall trees stand stubborn, dark straggly lines against a soft blue sky. It could be the middle of February. We … the humans … watch. We tap our toes and wonder. Isn’t it time for spring? Some small, discernible bits of newness? Some buds, or some green, some encouraging signs of a new season.
No, the trees look back, offering nothing more than a confident sway, as the uppermost branches, leafless, bend in unison.
They’re mostly oaks and a few poplars. And it’s like they’ve become defiant, adamant at least, about who’s in control. Plain, unadorned branches, move slowly left and then right in the breeze. Shouldn’t they be working on some green, some buds, even some pollen? I’ve watched this slow drama play out so many years, and yet I wonder impatiently what happens first. Tiny sprigs of green, or those long strands of gold pollen?
The trees, though, the trees stand stubborn, and they sway when they feel like it. They move with a swagger, resistant to every human wish for spring. We’re all used to waiting now, aren’t we? But It feels like it will be the 4th of July, and still those big old trees will be standing there looking like they looked in February. We … the humans … restless, watching, waiting for them to green up. And waiting for a life that resembles something like it used to be. Any day now, maybe next week, maybe in a few months.
To this day, I love the soft, hoof to dirt rhythm, of a gallop. Clop clop clop clop, horse and rider, dust flying, in an old western. Clop clop clop clop. It’s sound and picture and smell and dust and dirt and powerful horse, all in a background sound that fills the brain.
When I was little, I played tap dance. With patent leather shoes banging and making as much noise as I could on a linoleum floor. It was silly and noisy, clicking and knocking the heck out of those shoes and that cheap floor. I love. I love that sound too.
But tonight it’s a cold dark winter night, it’s late, and I’m half asleep. Tick tick tick. The slick, scraping sound of icy sleet hitting windows, brushing glass. Tick tick tick. I’m inside, and feeling protected. Safe, I suppose. Yet the sound calls, barely calls, beckoning me from a desperate, a desperately soft floating dreamy winter numbness. Tick tick tick, calling me out from some sad sense of empty waiting. Tick tick tick. Out there in the dark. Tapping at the window. Tapping at the subconscious. It taps me on the shoulder. “Wake up. Listen, girl, listen. Yeah, girl, you. You hear that? Wake up, girl.” I get up and look, I guess hoping to see something in the darkness besides sleet hitting the glass. Out there where you know there’s nothing but dark and cold. What did I hope to see? I think something to make me look, to rouse, to look up and smile. Yeah, something to shake the numbness, to make me look up, and about, and smile.
Absent-minded, I look outside, and my brain works to pair long lines, from trees, with vertical panes, from the window. I like it when they’re perfectly parallel. When I take pictures in the woods, I angle the shot so trees naturally slanted to the sun come out straight up and down in the picture. Flowers too. And within the compulsion of these mental confines falls the nuisance and distraction of utility lines. Struggling to aim up over the lines so they don’t pull your eye from the clouds, or the sun, or the trees on the horizon. Sometimes, though, lines are inescapable. Sometimes you can’t take out the lines and have the same picture.