If you search the internet, you’ll find various versions of a fable about infinity that goes something like this …
Imagine a rock that’s one hundred miles long, one hundred miles wide and one hundred miles deep. Then imagine a bird that flies to the rock once every thousand years to sharpen its beak. Each time, a tiny speck falls from the rock. The bird then flies away again, waiting another millennium to return. The time it takes for the rock to turn to sand is Day One of infinity.
When I was a boy, I heard this story and had two immediate thoughts.
1) That’s one old bird;
2) If heaven lasts for eternity, that’s a painfully long time listening to a harp.
My Mom and Dad used to listen to Tchaikovsky and he featured the harp in The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. To be honest, I preferred the Beatles. If I had to listen to the harp for eternity, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go to heaven.
Many years later, I read Alice Siebold’s – The Lovely Bones – the story about a teenage girl going to heaven after being raped and murdered on earth. When she arrives in heaven, she’s greeted by the most beautiful music she’s ever heard and makes the assumption that everyone is listening to the same gorgeous sound. She’s quickly told that everyone in heaven listens to different music, but it’s the most glorious to them.
I felt better knowing the harp wasn’t destined for my playlist. But, I began thinking about hell and the music played by the devil.
This was the music your Mom warned you about – the tunes D.J.s would play backwards to prove how evil these little ditties really were.
When I thought about hell, I imagined acid rock playing night and day with the speakers turned up to 11 (thanks Spinal Tap).
That, to me, was Hell.
Funnily enough, it was heaven to someone else.
I pondered these things in my heart and realized that maybe this was the way it was supposed to be.
It always seemed a bit unfair that the good guys got to go to heaven forever and ever while the bad guys suffered in hell.
When I was in my early twenties, I visited India for a month and was dismayed by the caste system where people at the bottom rung were “untouchables.” These people handled garbage, shit and corpses. They weren’t allowed inside the temples and were prohibited from drinking from the wells used by the high castes even if they washed their hands.
This was wrong. Just wrong.
Then I thought about heaven and hell, which seemed like a caste system, but worse. The untouchables were sent to hell for as long as the bird sharpened its beak.
The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this can’t be. Nobody would design Hell to be this way. We must have it wrong.
The obvious solution for a lot of people is quite simple. They ponder this madness and stopped believing in Heaven, Hell or even God. The concepts we grew up with didn’t make sense to them so they dismissed everything.
I took a different path.
In my book – Lovers, God, and Eggs Benny – I imagine a different kind of Hell.
It’s not something to fear. It’s not harps playing 24 /7.
It’s something much more just.
At least to me.