Thursday, August 16, 2007

waiting at the gates

A soothing, gentle mist curled itself around Jenny's feet, and as she walked forward, she was bathed in a strangely invigorating light. Ahead of her was a great city with gates made of finest pearl. A queue miles long stood before her, filled with men, women and children of every tribe, nation and language, all made timeless by the light that came from every direction at once. At the very front of the line stood a venerable man, talking leisurely with each person in turn; the process surely was taking forever, and yet it seemed also to take no time at all.
"I just realized," she said to no one in particular. "I'm dead, aren't I? We're in line for judgment." The words came amazingly calmly from her lips. It almost surprised her that she could be so nonchalant about her death, but then, she thought, as she was dead, it wasn't as though there much she could do about it.
"Mm," said Jamie, who was standing in front of her. "How did you die?"
Jenny paused for a moment, thinking. She remembered her passing in vivid detail; how strange that it meant nothing to her now!
"I froze to death," she said, matter-of-factly, and moved forward as the line advanced.

"That sounds awful," said Jamie. "How does it feel to freeze to death?"

"It was very uncomfortable at first," said Jenny. "I started shaking ferociously, and then I got sharp pains in my fingers and toes that I just couldn't stop. But in the end, I suppose it was a very peaceful way to go. I went numb and just kind of drifted off, as though I were sleeping."

She looked at the other woman, and the line moved again. "How about you, how did you die?" Jenny asked.

"I had a heart attack," said Jamie. "You see, I knew my husband was cheating on me, so one day I showed up at home unexpectedly. I ran up to the bedroom, and even though he was watching TV by himself, I wasn't fooled. I ran to the basement, but couldn't find anyone there either. So I ran to the second floor, and there was still no one hiding there either. I ran as fast as I could to the attic, and just as I got there, I had a massive heart attack and died."

"Ah," said Jenny sadly, as her companion reached the front of the line and stood before Saint Peter. "What a pity ... if you had only looked in the freezer, we'd both still be alive."

If Saint Peter was listening to their conversation, he gave no indication. He simply took their names, checked in the heavy book before him, and explained that anyone could enter heaven who could answer one simple question.

"It isn't a math question, is it?" asked Jamie. "I've never been very good at math, unless it involves sales."
"No, no math," Peter said, somewhat surprised by the question. "You just have to tell me--"
"Oh, I hope it's not an essay question," Jenny said. "I never do the assigned reading for tests, and I'm horrible at writing. I got a C-minus on my eighth-grade book report on 'The Cat in the Hat' because I thought it was all about the family dog."
"No, it's not an essay question either," said Peter. "You just have to explain--"
"Could it be true or false?"
"What about multiple choice?"
The old saint screamed and nearly pulled out his hair, but at the last moment he mastered himself, gripped the sides of his podium and said, through clenched teeth, "Just. Tell. Me. What. Easter. Is."
"Easter comes in December," Jenny said primly, "It's when we put up a holiday tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus."
"No," said St. Peter, "I'm afraid that's not it." He turned to Jamie. "Can you tell me what Easter is?"
"That's an easy one," said Jamie, smiling at Jenny like the cat that swallowed the canary. "Easter's the fourth Thursday in November. Everyone gets together to celebrate the start of the Christmas shopping season on Friday, we eat turkey, and we're thankful for everything we get to buy."
St. Peter sighed, shook his head, and peered over his half-moon spectacles at Jessica, the woman in line behind the other two. "I don't suppose you can tell me what Easter is?" he asked. It was clear he expected to be disappointed once again.
Jessica smiled and looked St. Peter in the eyes, "Of course I know what Easter is," she said confidently.
"Oh?" says St. Peter, as the slightest measure of hope entered his voice. "Please explain."
"Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover," Jessica said with the easy manner of someone repeating oft-reheared bits of knowledge. "Jesus and his disciples were eating at the Last Supper, and later that evening one of his disciples turned Jesus over to the Romans. The Romans took him to be crucified and he was stabbed in the side, made to wear a crown of thorns, and was hung on a cross with nails through his hands. He was buried in a nearby cave that was sealed off by a large boulder."
St. Peter smiled broadly with delight and relief. At last, he thought, here's someone who knows what she's talking about.
Then Jessica continued: "Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out... and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter."

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