The light wasn’t so bright after all. I could see quite well, without squinting. There was no tunnel, no overhead view as nurses and doctors rushed about, pounding on my chest and shouting for crash carts and big needles. I just left it behind, looking forward to whatever the next moment held in store. So now, here, in whatever this place is, I don’t hear choirs of angels, there aren’t any clouds, and I have yet to see a pearly set of gates. No crowds of ancestors to greet me, no voice from the sky calling my name, no bearded man in robes appearing in a puff of smoke to interview me, direct me to a shining escalator, or fit me for a harp. Instead, I am alone, surrounded by a quiet peace, tall mountains, green meadows, colorful flowers, and a soft, warm breeze. The sun is high in the sky, but it’s not hot. The day is mild, and I am comfortable, not sweating and wishing for a shower. I feel young, strong, and renewed. I look down at my hands; they are wrinkle-free, and as I flex them I feel no pain. I am barefoot, and let out a chuckle as I wiggle my toes in the warm grass. I scan the horizon, and off in the distance see a stretch of beach, just beyond the mouth of this, my private valley. The white surf rushing onto the sand sets my feet in motion; it beckons me to come down and relive some happy memories. I walk for several minutes, puzzled that I am still alone, but content in the fact that I am not up to my neck in fire and brimstone, or lounging in perfect boredom on a cloud. I pass through a grove of trees and out onto the deserted beach, the sounds of the sea reminding me of so many great moments in time.
I step forward into the surf, just enough to wet my feet up to the ankles. The water is cool and refreshing, and I want to swim in it. I pull off my shirt and toss it behind me into the wind, carefree and smiling as I run forward into the waves. I dive into a breaker, thrilling as it rushes over my back, burying me in a comfortable pile of water. I swim through it and pop up on the other side, then duck my head immediately into the next one. After a few minutes of fun that I have not had in years, I am eager to experience something else that I have missed for some time, and turn around to head back onto the sand for a nice warm lay down. I dive with the next wave, riding on its back until it can carry me no further, and my knees dig into the sand. I stand, and looking up see that I am no longer alone. There is a man off in the distance, walking towards me, having just emerged from the grove of trees that I myself passed through just a few minutes ago. I trudge my way up to dry sand, grab my shirt, and pull it over my head, wondering who it is that has been sent to welcome me into this happy place. I start walking towards him, reviewing the short list of men that I often imagined waiting for me with outstretched arms as I passed over to this other side. Suddenly I am running, unable to contain my excitement at the realization of who it must be. I cross the distance at a clip, my legs feeling young and full of strength. He is closer now; his skinny frame, perfect hair, and handsome, happy smile are unmistakable. I approach at a near sprint, tears in my eyes and my own laughter sounding in my ears as I leap the final few feet into his open arms, knocking him back but not down. He is strong, he is well, he is real, and he is here with me. I bury my face in his neck, weeping for joy, taking in this moment so long in coming. I breath in his scent, marvel at his arms around me, and for a few long moments I won’t let go, afraid that he will slip away again. At last I push him back, hold him at arm’s length, and look into his eyes. They are bright, joyous, and full of love.
“I have missed you Jared...” My voice is half a whisper, as if to speak out loud would wake me from this dream.
But it isn’t a dream; he smiles, looks shy and away for a moment, and then he laughs that guilty laugh and blurts, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry!”
And I laugh too, because I know now that I am in heaven.