I saw my old college professor in the supermarket, shopping. It was awkward. He never liked me.
“Heaven is a lie,” the venerable professor once said during class. “Just like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.”
Then he explained that God wasn’t real. Neither were angels, nor Christmas, Easter, Elvis, or Beulah Land. He claimed the future of every human was to die and become, more or less, worm poop.
I disagreed with him in the middle of class. He asked why. I told him that I’d been to Graceland. Twice. He disliked me thereafter.
But I’m not sorry.
My first interest in heaven began when my father died. Once, I stood in an open hayfield, watching a gray sky, hoping for a glimpse of it.
Desperate boys do desperate things.
I prayed for a miracle, a sign. Nothing. If I’d been smart—like my professor—I would’ve given up on the idea. But I’m a slow learner.
My granny believed that when people died, they got sucked into the clouds. There, they could lean over a brass railing and see the world below.
Weaver’s Department store had one such railing. At Christmas, Mama would turn me loose in Weaver’s with three bucks in my fat little hands for holiday gift shopping.
The first thing I’d do was clomp upstairs, taking two steps at a time. I’d lean over the second-floor bannister and people-watch—while resisting an urge to spit.
I still do this in airports, hotel lobbies, restaurants, and Walmart—the watching, not the spitting.
Take, for instance, yesterday. I sat outside Target, waiting on my wife. Busy folks rushed in and out of sliding doors. A little boy sat on the bench beside me.
His father dug through his wallet while the boy hummed to himself. The man handed the boy a twenty and told him to buy a gift for his stepmom.
“But Dad,” the kid said. “Can’t we call her Mom?”
“No, buddy. She’s not your real mom.”
“I know. I really miss Mom.”
The man picked up the boy and said, “Me too.”
I don’t know where that child’s mother went, but somewhere in the world is a stepmother with a lot of love under her tree.
My professor would say love is a lie, too. Just like he believes this whole time of year is absurd. He doesn’t believe in shepherds, drummer boys, or babies in mangers. Or brass railings.
People like him probably don’t believe there is a power on earth strong enough to change stepmoms into real mothers, either.
That poor man.
I’ll disagree with him until the day I shake hands with Daddy.