I don’t believe in hell as a place where doomed souls spend eternity. I don’t know if there is a heaven beyond this life, but I hope so. I do know that we create our own heaven and hell right here on earth.
I remember a particular day that I spent in heaven—you could not convince me otherwise—I was there. Paradise. Hawaii. The place of my dreams, both waking and sleeping. At last our family was in this place where I spent the best part of my childhood. I was there with the people I love above all else.
That morning we drove to the north shore to watch the massive waves, a fond childhood memory that I wanted to share with my kids. Later, at a park, I picked a delicate lavender colored hibiscus blossom for my daughter, for her hair. The fragile petals enveloped a sturdy yellow stamen. I thought, surely this is God’s work–a gift from Mother Nature, or from whatever benevolent force has created this wonder.
As we stood admiring the flower, the culmination of a day of intense wonder and beauty, at that precise second, a small rusty car sped into the parking lot, tires screaming as it careened around the corner. I was aware of loud angry voices but tried not to let them pierce the perfection of the moment. I thought, “Can’t people at least be happy here, in this perfect place?” A young man and woman, were screaming at each other, looking for a “blank blanking” (insert very bad words here) something as they rummaged around in the trunk of the car. And, then, suddenly, he hit her. He hit her hard. And just as suddenly the universe seemed to tilt in that moment, and we’re not in Hawaii anymore; we’re not even in Kansas. We have crossed over the River Styx and are in a hell of man’s own making.
She calls him a very bad word and stalks off. I am behind her on the sidewalk and want to reach out to her, to take her away with us, but I hesitate. And then the opportunity to help is gone as the car comes screaming toward us and “he” jumps out. He grabs her and yells at her to “get in the blanking car.” He shoves her in, slamming the door on her. The last thing I see is the girl, sitting in the passenger seat, her arms covering her head.
We made a feeble attempt to help, chasing after the car, but lost them, and the lifeguard we flagged down wasn’t interested. It haunts us still, that we should have done more, tried harder. We should have found a way to help that girl.
Heaven exists. My husband, son, daughter and I experienced it in Hawaii, one of the most beautiful places on earth, immersed in love.
Hell exists. Every time someone hits the person he or she is supposed to love, that is hell. Violence is hell. We experience collective hell when a deranged soul opens fire in a school.
We can create either; we can dwell in paradise, or doom ourselves to damnation. Everyone has a choice. But maybe we need to remember that we’re not in this alone. My husband and I have talked of this many times. We should have helped that girl. We should have done something. I believe we have the power to create heaven on earth, certainly for ourselves, and maybe even for strangers. We need to pay attention. It’s possible that at any moment I could be your angel, or you could be mine.
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