Back when I was special, I believed in Hell.
These days, when the Nothing is being tossed into the center of a Chicago barroom table between half cans of cider at closing time, I hope that I’m not. This is where the fear sets in. With no Hell, no Heaven, no reincarnation– with only the Nothing to drift silently or screaming into, floating around while our matter decays and our consciousness flits one last second before it’s gone, I think I’m going to vomit. The panic lurks somewhere on the back of my ears and reaches down to give the bottom of my heart a tremendous wedgie before sending the shakes to my sweating palms. Somehow, to my Windy City friends that night, the Nothing calmed their heaven-or-hell jitters, consoled their long-time-guilt-ridden-religious selves to a place they could believe again in a benevolent God.
Maybe I’m not enlightened enough, yet. Maybe I’m not certain of the terms. Maybe I’m confused as to where the love we create here goes, or how the Nothing could possibly fit it all. Mostly, I’m worried that I’m special, and like the one in a trillion that anesthesia doesn’t take for, I would be the one conscious soul floating in the nothing, fully aware, fully alone, fully missing out on my Nirvana or zen or whatever it is, panicking eternally at the gaping loneliness that sits forever in front and behind me.
Maybe I just tipped the Devil off as to how to create my version of Hell.
And this is where I run into the trouble of believing I might be special. That even the Devil himself thinks enough of me to make me my own, insular Lake of Fire. Which, sometimes, sounds better than a big God who thinks only enough of you to let you into his house, but then you will spend forever meditating or prostrate or glowing with hundreds or thousands or millions (depending on the exclusivity clause in your religious contract) while you turn into the Faceless who sing always in key and never have to work out a crossword puzzle again since all of our questions will be answered and all our sicknesses will be gone and all our hardships that make us different and special will be forgotten. The trouble I run into with Heaven is that it feels an awful lot like the Nothing. And somehow, between times I am dodging lightning bolts from the sky, I want Heaven to be more.
I remember this tidbit of embarrassment well: a 15-year-old with sweaty armpits and outrageous hormones holding court on the church gym floor, crying about the possibility of Heaven. Sure, I wanted to be saved. Sure, I loved to sing. But choir practice? For forever? What would we do with the time? The forever time? It was time to go home, and I was causing a scene. A well meaning and patient deacon simply took a knee next to me and spoke as if the answer was right on my face all along. “As soon as you get to Heaven,” he said, “God will wipe your brain so clean, you won’t even realize the time is passing.”
Of course! A celestial lobotomy! All of my crying and carrying on, my questioning and my disruption will be eliminated upon entry. I will be the Jack Nicholson of Heaven’s Ward, pattering and mumbling and drooling about while the rest of the cuckoo’s nest rested safely together worshiping the holy throne.
And then I become afraid that I am the one in a trillion for whom the anesthesia won’t take.
Today I am not feeling the tug of the Nothing, the lurch and the panic and living a full life only to be spit into an endless black curtain of phlegm-y zen. Neither do I feel special as Satan fluffs my pillow of nails. Today, I just have to believe that I am loved, even if all signs are pointing that I am not. Even if the sunshine is too bright to my dull boxed wine headache, and the perfectly temperate weather seems more like an insistence that I don’t deserve it. Even if nothing is clicking between me and my Someone, even if my dog keeps barking and scaring the shit out of everyone who walks this sidewalk, even if I am homesick for a place I’ve never been, even if the home I do have has a bent axle and an attitude problem, today I have to believe that there is a God and he/she/it loves me. And I have to believe it here, on this side of Heaven or Hell or the Nothing, not because I am afraid of my limited options. And I am too tired of the theological and post-life-placement-plan contingencies of love to think any more about them.
Heaven and Hell and the Nothing have eternity to wait for my arrival. Now, I think, I choose to be loved right here.