When I was a little girl, I asked an adult what heaven was like? Their answer was something that I appreciate even more now that I am a mother, they simply said that heaven is “happiness.” I pressed further and wanted to know what type of happiness? Was it waking up from a good night’s sleep type of happiness or playing with my friends outside in the sunshine type of happiness? Inquiring minds needed to know specifics.
Unfortunately, the adult who had led me down this path of questioning, which type of happiness was the best, didn’t have sufficient answers for me. So, I set out to define my heaven-like happiness all by myself. I spent a few days thinking about the subject. At times, I determined that heaven isn’t a place I’d like to go if I was confined to just one emotion. But then I reasoned that heaven was more of an abstract ideal and not a place, so my thought exercise was still a worthwhile pursuit. Perhaps, even more so.
When I asked other children what their thoughts were, I was deeply disappointed. Some said that there were kittens and puppies in heaven. But when I asked what happened to the puppies and kittens when they grew up? Or if their puppies and kitten’s parents were also there? And was part of the joy of heaven taking care of pets? Their vision lost focus.
Others said their deceased relatives were there. So, I asked what version of their relatives were there? Was it their grandma when she was young or old? And would your grandma’s parents be there too? And their parents? And so on? What about the family members who didn’t know each other? Or were the relatives unique to the person’s vision of heaven the only ones that mattered? I didn’t get any of my questions answered. It was at this time, I started to realize that perhaps, I thought a little deeper than the average eight-year-old.
And then there was the one kid that said that heaven was just like candy land, a place where you could eat everything, and it tasted so good. I liked this version of heaven. I had no questions. I understood this type of happiness.
That night as I laid in bed, I constructed my own version of heaven in my mind. There was a huge, beautiful banquet hall with an ice cream buffet that had every flavor of ice cream ever made. The hall had people and animals in it, but only those who wanted to be. I didn’t have to know them, and they didn’t have to be relatives. They just had to want to be there.
My thoughts flooded over into dream land, and I spent that evening eating ice cream, without ever getting brain freeze or a tummy ache. As I ate a huge mint chocolate chip ice cream cone, I wandered around and talked to my deceased hamster Midnight, my grandma Hannah, and a dog named Fluffy – who walked on two legs and held a tall chocolate ice cream cone in his paw. The ice cream never fully melted, and the buffet never ran out.
My magical ice cream buffet heaven is now 34 years old. I still frequent it during meditation and occasionally in my dreams. My guest list has expanded to include a collection of my historic heroes: Seneca, Martin Luther, Homer, Marcus Aurelias, Cleopatra, Sitting Bull, Albert Einstein, to name a few and the ever-expanding list of people I’ve known on this side of life who have since gone to the other side.
The ice cream is always flowing, and the conversation is always interesting in my version of heaven. While I fully accepted long ago that heaven isn’t an actual place, I take comfort knowing that as long as I am living, I can visit there anytime I like.
When I think about my own death, I don’t think about heaven. I think about heaven when I think about life. Heaven feels close when I think about the curiosities that drive me and my love for interesting people and ice cream. I bask in the gratitude that I have been alive long enough to know happiness in so many ways, too numerous to be confined to a place. Even heaven. I do not need to worry about death, as life is all that separates me from it. It will come at some point, whether I am ready for it or not. Death is what unites us all. It is life that can separate us.
Today, when I am having trouble connecting with life, I can meditate and visit my magical ice cream buffet. I can take joy in the fact that I am connected to life through death and vice-a-versa. Wherever I was before, I will be once again. But right now, in this moment, I am alive and that is a gift. And if that doesn’t work, I can make myself an ice cream cone and call a friend. I can make my own little piece of heaven in the here and now.