I have here an email which reads:
“Sean, you often write of angels and miracles, and today, of Heaven. But if Heaven and angels are real, which I do believe, then Hell and demons must also be real. I guess writing about those is less fun? People don’t like to think about those ideas. But presenting only one side of the spiritual realm is perhaps misleading?”
After reading the above letter, I realized something important. I have never written about hell. Over the years I’ve written about angels, miracles, cancer survivors, dogs, play-off games, small towns, and eyebrow hair. But never hell.
To verify that this was true, I had my research department, Jamie Martin Dietrich, comb through a decade’s worth of columns. The research department determined that—unless you count columns on the NCAA National Championship—I have never written about hell.
Thus, I am going to tell you a true anecdote about hell, a place which, I can assure you, is real. I know this because I visited hell a few months ago when I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to register a boat trailer.
No sooner had I entered the DMV than the clerk said, “Take a number and get in line!” And I knew I was in purgatory.
So there I was, standing in a line of tormented souls, all waiting for our numbers to be called. This line was longer than the line to the men’s room at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
I was alongside people who were unshaven and disheveled, gnashing their teeth, and surviving on vending machine food. I met an elderly man who had been standing in line to register his Ford Station Wagon since 1954.
After 40 days and 40 nights of waiting, I was finally invited to approach a teller window.
I told the clerk I wanted to register my boat trailer.
She managed to say her next sentence in one, eye-rolling sigh. “Do you have proof of registration?”
I explained that, no, I didn’t have registration because I originally bought my boat on craigslist in Alabama, a state which doesn’t require registration on boat trailers.
She answered, and I quote: “Sir, the trailer must be registered before we can register it.”
Welcome to hell.
So the following day, I drove three hours into Alabama to get this squared away. I contacted the former owner of the boat to accompany me to the local DMV.
The teller in Alabama was much like the woman in Florida. She had the same trademarked cheerful disposition. Same hairdo. Same make and model of pitchfork.
“I can’t register this trailer,” the clerk said, “because it hasn’t been registered.”
This was beginning to feel like an Abbot and Costello routine.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “I just want to register my boat trailer, why is this so hard?”
“Sir, we don’t require registration on boat trailers in Alabama.”
“I know that, but I NEED this registration because I live in Florida.”
Another eye roll. “Then what are you doing in Alabama?”
Give me strength.
So I threw myself upon her mercy and explained my problem in painstaking detail. To her credit, she heard me out. Then, in a display of genuine compassion, the kind of human tenderness that makes you proud to be an American, she said, “NEXT IN LINE?!”
I called my cousin, Ed Lee, about the ordeal.
“Boy, oh, boy,” Ed Lee said, “what a mess. I wish you’d called me first, I could have saved you some trouble.”
My cousin is a veteran boat buyer. He has purchased four boats in Alabama and knew exactly what to do.
So the following morning, Ed Lee came to my house with a plasma cutter, an angle grinder, a sledge hammer, and a welding mask. Together we cut up the boat trailer into tiny pieces and hauled it away to the county dump.
Still, if I’m being honest, my favorite description of hades is my grandfather’s description. Which I will share with you.
Granddaddy delivered this particular description one Wednesday night at church, just before he said the prayer at a potluck.
“Hell is not a place of flames and devils,” my grandfather began. “I believe hell is a big dining hall, a lot like this room we’re standing in now.
“I believe hell has the biggest feast you ever saw, all the finest foods, steaming and ready to eat. Except something’s wrong. Everyone in hell is weeping and fighting, because nobody can eat this delicious food. Because their arms won’t bend.”
While potluck guests were thinking about this, my grandfather explained that heaven is no different than hell.
“In heaven I think it’s the same way,” he said. “Heaven has the same feasting table, the same wonderful foods, the same problem of not being able to bend your stiff arms. Only up in heaven nobody is crying.”
“Why not?” someone asked.
“Because,” my grandfather said, “in heaven everyone feeds each other.”
Admittedly, I know nothing of the afterlife, and I think we can all agree that I’m unqualified to make insightful remarks on the subject. There is one thing, however, I know for certain about hell. The doors are locked from the inside.
Just like the doors of the DMV.