infinite yes

cartoon by David Sipress

One of the things I love about the Buddha’s teaching is that he neither confirmed nor denied the existence of an afterlife. Not because he was privy to some secret knowledge that he didn’t feel like sharing with the rest of us. The Buddha was, if anything, a practical guy. His reticence on the issue was probably because even he didn’t know if there was a heaven or not. I’m OK with that. Better to be truthful than to lie about something you have no knowledge of. Still, that hasn’t stopping humans from speaking with certainty about the existence of an eternal resting place beyond this temporal world of ours. Do I want to believe in heaven? Of course I do. The next question would be: what goes on there? I spoke at the memorial service of a dear friend recently. I tried, in my typical uncouth fashion, to lighten the mood in the church just a little by telling a few funny stories about the deceased, who was, among many other things, a poet, a dog-lover, and a beer connoisseur  One of the stories I told had to do with dogs. The other with beer. I closed my remembrance by saying that I knew there would be poetry in heaven, but that I hoped there would be dogs and really good beer. I should have also said stories. If there is a heaven, and if the afterlife really is infinite, then that should give us fallible, rushed, judgmental human beings the time and the space to tell each other all our stories until we really know each other as fully and as compassionately as we can. Human beings have been telling each other stories since before written language. Maybe stories are our original religion. Maybe the stories we tell each other here are just intimations, the edited remarks of the much longer, much more detailed stories, we will tell each other in heaven. In this sense, the 1,000-plus page novel by David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, is but a precursor to the much longer, and hopefully happier story that Dave will tell when I meet him in the next world. I hope I can sit with him, and with all the people I knew and know and will know, who I loved and love and will love, and tell them my story, as they tell me theirs. In my version of heaven, we would finally have the time to get to know one another, uninterrupted by Facebook and our cell phones buzzing. I’m hoping there will be gardens, with clear warm streams flowing through them that we can swim in. Maybe some music. And really good beer. Or seltzer if you’re on the wagon. We’ll sit in these gardens with the water flowing at our feet, drinking our divine cocktails, with Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes playing in the background. Not piped in through some speakers that look like rocks hidden in the flowers, mind you. But actually played by Bob and Levon and Rick and Richard and Garth and Robbie, who will be there with us too. Here we’ll tell each other our stories. The stories we didn’t have time to tell each other on Earth. Because in my version of heaven, we’ll have all the time in the world.


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