According to many cultures, should you carry on a life that is less than stellar according to the laws of their respective arcane text, upon your death you will be denied paradise, reserved only for the worthy, and instead be cast into an endless well of suffering.
Both the idyllic and the abyssal plane are interpreted differently from faith to faith. However, all share a reductive verisimilitude in this: one is ecstatic, and one is torturous.
You might be underwhelmed, or at most, whelmed to know that I gravitate more towards the Pagan ideological and dogmatic constructs of bygone times. Certainly not in any kind of formal practice, mind you. I don’t have a garden, or a backyard, which sadly eliminates me automatically from personal participation in seventy percent of potential ceremonies I could engage in without being swiftly tossed in jail. It’s more in the loose and noncommittal sense that I believe most days would best be spent frolicking naked through the forest with your fellow man and woman while you’re all half blind off of questionably made wine; eventually leading to a bacchanal of revelry and so many intertwining limbs you genuinely forget for the duration of it all what sex organs you were born with. All you know is that you’ve never felt so much pleasure in your wildest imagination, and that the trinity of bodily fluids being secreted from all participants are beginning to stain the wolf pelts and fallen autumnal maple leaves upon which this is all taking place.
The way the Old Gods intended.
With that, a further tenant of Paganism that I have always been particularly drawn to is that according to some interpretations, upon your death, depending on the way you lived, you will be escorted to the aforementioned idyllic or abyssal plane- but with a caveat. Whichever realm you find yourself in will be tailored exactly to whatever your specific version of what heaven or hell would be for you. Which makes sense. After all, many families can scarcely agree on what they would all prefer for lunch much less what an entire human race’s idea of endless joy or terror would be. How horrible would it be to have lived a life of if not piety, than at least abject decency and goodness only to find yourself beamed up to a fully clothed kumbaya circle for all eternity when all you really wanted was limitless Taco Bell, an endless continuation of your favorite shows, and to never get bedsores again.
With that in mind, I cannot strongly recommend organized religion. Too many rules. Too little payoff, and a bit risky for my liking. I don’t go on waterslides if I don’t have extreme faith in its structural integrity, much less gambling with eternity.
That said, I have my own vision of the great beyond. The grand payoff for a life of holding doors, never once kicking a chihuahua, and resisting the urge without to set fire to old white Christian billionaires in suits lamenting how they’re under attack.
I deserve it.
Perhaps you do to.
And the more I consider it, you would almost certainly increase the joy in your present life imagining what would await you after the golden light grows brighter, your eyes begin to close for the final time on earth, and you rejoice that you’ll never have to talk to your fucking bank ever again.
I awake, panicked at first. Not because I’m scared, it’s just that I’ve never felt clothing so soft on my skin in all of my life. It’s a self-harvesting, self-weaving, and self-tailoring fabric that nobody had to struggle to forge, and somehow manages to be both practical and shiny, with splashy but tasteful nods to camp. I’m on an unimaginably soft bed, so soft in fact that I choose to save further inspection of heaven for a few hours later and go down for a nap; I’ve just been through a lot, after all, and will need my rest. There is no anxiety or guilt flowing through me as I lay back down, and instead of my earthly shrill and occasionally villainous self-speak, my inner monologue has taken on the buttery, sonorous voice of Peter O’Toole. “Dream sweetly,” my mind says to me as if it’s beginning to recite one of the Elizabethan sonnets, “All awaits you.”
When I awake, I see that my bed is on a mossy plateau, surrounded by the peaceful sounds of frogs and the sweet ambient light of fireflies that stay a respectful ten feet away from me at all times. The plateau is itself in the middle of a small lake that is illuminated by large fluorescent mushrooms that at a whim act as impossibly comfortable folding chairs for me and at my beck and call. The flora that surrounds me is enormous; it is a pantheon of indescribable purples, greens, ambers, silvers, and golds. I look up and see the entirety of the cosmos. I see stars being born, I see galaxies and nebulas hurtling across the vastness of space and I am assured by the new tone that my internal voice has taken that all I see is benevolent; that all of this is on it’s way to creating something beautiful, somewhere in the universe, and that I may go to any of these places any time I wish any time that I return to bed. However, it will be no dream; it will be real, I am told. For I no longer have need for what I used to call “sleep.” That was reserved for when I was exhausted, either physically, or emotionally, and that is an inconceivable concept where I am now.
I rise, and as I step out towards the edges of the mossy, fern covered plateau and move towards the edge of the water, I see that the shells of turtles appear underneath my feet with each step. “I’m so sorry!” I say as I step on one unintentionally.
“Oh not to worry! It feels like a back massage to us!”
“Really!?” I say with relief.
“Yes, and in case you were wondering, no, we don’t only wait here for you to step on us, you see we sleep in the waters under the lake, when you go bed.”
“No, we don’t watch you do anything. You have infinite privacy.”
I walk across my footpath of sweet, accommodating turtles to the edge of the circular meadow, and I wander through the vast, glowing forest. There are all of the books that have been written and have yet to be written resting on various shelves off of the trees, and the rest of the forest is filled with peaceful string music and beautiful people of all kinds that invite me to rest, eat the finest foods, and engage in interesting conversation, hold each other closely, safely, and intimately, and drink with them whenever I wish. However, there’s no pressure. I can even ignore them if I want.
I reach an impasse and notice large oaken door with a brass handle in the shape of an owl.
“Are you ready, Sam?” the kind eyed owl says to me.
“For what? Is this it? Is this all” I say.
“Oh no, not even a little bit. This, all of this is just your bedroom! This is your space. This is your room in heaven; exactly how you would have always wanted it, just for you. The rest of it, the rest of everything, literally everything, is just beyond this door.”
With an inviting creaking the now unlatched door slowly opens, and I am suddenly standing at the edge of a vast hillside, with webs of rivers at the bottom of great flower covered valleys. There are lichen covered weeping willows blowing lazily in the wind, and the enormity of the landscape comes into clearer focus. There are fruit trees as far as the eye can see. There is music in the distance. There is music in front of me. It is stringed. The cello, most likely. There are smells of petrichor and yet no rain clouds. It is sunny but not oppressive. It is perfect. There are people dancing deep down in the valley.
“Ah, there you are, darling!” a man says to me.
“I KNEW you were God!” I blurt out to Freddie Mercury.
“HAH! Hardly. No. I just felt that you would like it best if I was the first person you saw.”
I’m stammering from joy. This is all more than I ever thought I could feel.
“Who…Where is God?” I ask.
“Well, love, the greatest misconception that we all had on Earth was that God was a person. But God was, is, this! It was the earth itself. It was our imaginations. It was barbecue and cocaine and mochas in autumn. It was great sex, it was sneaking out for cigarettes. It also was death, it was sickness, it was torment. That’s because God, I’ve come to know since being here, is the atom. And all God could do was simply exist after that. The Big Bang was God’s first and only action. The rest was up to the division of the atoms, the cells, the microcosms of the universe. So even this place, like all good things, is a miracle. God can only begin things, but, and probably for the best, can never finish them. It’s why you’re here. Because you aren’t really dead, darling. You’re just in your new home: the universe; the collective plane of joy you had always imagined- like everyone else has.”
“This is all my vision?”
“No, love, your bedroom is! That’s your heaven. Think of all of this as a giant house. I have a bedroom, too. Everyone here does! We each have a creature or mode of conveyance to take us to ours. This….What you see…Well, think of it as…the living room! This is the space we all share, and it is as boundless as our own quarters. All designed and agreed upon by the greatest imaginations of joy from the best places of our hearts. Because here, the rules are different, in that there hardly are any, except the ones that inspire joy, but not in a creepy way with a caveat like in all those depressing dystopian novels.”
“So I can see my mom?”
“Of course!” Freddie says sweetly.
“My cat Claire?”
“Naturally! I pet her a little on my way here! You know I love cats. She’s a doll.”
I fall over. I have never cried harder in my entire existence, ethereal or flesh. Freddie leans down and hugs me. I feel a few of his own tears on my shoulder.
“I did the same thing when I got here, too, darling.”
I look up and notice he’s smiling through his tears.
“Why are you smiling?”
“Well…I’m just so happy for you! You’re here! You’re finally here! We’ve been expecting you. You have a bunch of people to meet. Don’t worry, you have their name memorized immediately. You see everyone in that valley, and everyone in this plane of reality, is everyone that we ever loved on earth, and everyone throughout history that we would have loved if we had the chance to meet them. That’s the population of this place.”
I pause, stunned. My tears dry and all of a sudden I’m smiling uncontrollably.
I’m beginning to feel quite social.
“Shall we go and explore?” Freddie asks.
“I’d love to.” I say, “But you don’t have to, like, stay with me the whole time or-“
“Oh shut up, I know that! I WANT to show you around. And when you’ve seen at least a little bit, because, again, this is endless, we’ll get you to your mom and your cat. You remember how she loves talking about the same books you’ve read or shows you’ve seen. Well, she’ll definitely want you to have seen a bit of this as well before you both go out drinking tonight.”
A wave of calm rushes over me. Before I ask what my mode of conveyance is a giant multicolored eagle with a series of recliners strapped to its back appears in front of us beside one of the enormous willow trees, and before we climb on to explore the endless sea of joy, to explore the endlessness of happiness beyond our wildest imagination, Freddie says of my eagle…
“So elegant, and yet so damn ridiculous.” Freddie remarks, “I love it.”