“Heaven is a place, a place where nothing ever happens” – The Talking Heads
“Heaven is hell in reverse” – Elvis Costello
Jocelyn, one of the youngest souls in heaven, gently hop-scotched over scrawny clouds and, not quite blinded by the light, approached the Archangel Michael.
“If you please, sir, I have a request.”
“Yes,” Michael’s sonorous voice replied, echoing and bouncing among the clouds.
“I’d like to visit limbo.”
“Are you not happy here, living eternal perfection?”
“Of course, I’m happy. But there does seem to be something missing.”
“What could that possibly be? You have eternal life, eternal comfort, eternal beauty.”
“Some stimulating conversation. You see, limbo has Aristotle and Confucius, Cleopatra and Virginia Woolf and Einstein, even Stephen Hawking—I know he’s an atheist, but an interesting one.”
“Hawking—didn’t we assign him to hell?”
“I’m not sure, sir. He did spend most of his life paralyzed, so perhaps that’s suffering enough. Plus, he was one of the great minds of the twentieth century. Plus, maybe he did have good reason to be an atheist, not just because of his condition but because the physical sciences do seem to indicate atheism as a logical conclusion.”
“I’m sorry, sir. As you know, I myself was able to take the leap of faith. Even though faith is often blind.”
“That might be heresy, too.”
“I’m sorry again, sir. It’s just that, well, I’d like to talk to God.”
“God is horribly busy running the universe.”
“That’s true, and it does seem like such an impossible job. Still, at one point I had believed that we each had a personal God who was such an amazing being that we each could converse with her.”
“Her? How can such a powerful being be limited to the female gender?”
“True, but should God be limited to male? After all, it’s women who give birth.”
“I know, I know,” said the Archangel, and his brow furrowed into wrinkles so infinite that one could go mad gazing directly at them. Not wishing to turn to stone, Jocelyn twisted her head away. “Still, I can’t get used to using ‘they’ as a pronoun,” the Archangel continued. “The whole question of whether it’s plural drives me batty.”
“But back to limbo. Can I visit, if just for a day? It would make heaven so much sweeter when I return.”
“Confidentially,” said the Archangel, “I’m sympathetic. It does get a little dull here. The problem is, if I make an exception for you, others would come flocking to me like a mass of pigeons beating their little wings begging for bread crumbs, asking to be made an exception, too. Keeping the heavenly souls and angels in a harmonious order is a bit like herding cats. You can’t imagine the bureaucratic nightmare. Tolstoy was wrong—good people are good in such a variety of ways. Allowing you to visit limbo would throw the whole cosmic order out of whack. Heaven, purgatory, limbo, hell. It’s nice, it’s hierarchical, it’s clean, everyone understands it!”
Frustrated, Jocelyn decided the very next day, or eon, or however time is measured in heaven, to sneak away to limbo. But as she crossed heaven’s shimmering border she found herself stuck in the infinitesimal infinity of time, space, and being. This was exactly what she had expected; nonetheless, she had felt an inner demon compelling her. Perhaps Satan had fled heaven for similar reasons, but Jocelyn did not feel in the least satanic. Plus, standing there like a statue, paralyzed for all of time, seemed only slightly duller than heaven. Perhaps she would feel different in a hundred million years or so. In any case, she had no choice now. At least she felt no pain, not even the minor discomfort of, say, a toe stubbed or a limb falling asleep.
Sooner than expected, “See here,” came a familiar, sonorous voice from behind. Jocelyn could not turn to face the Archangel, but she knew it was him.
“I’ve discussed it with the most high, the big boss, the top enchilada, the divine one themself—or is it “themselves”? I still haven’t figured this pronoun thing out.”
“They’ve agreed that you can leave for limbo on condition that you never return. Permanent exile. But we have to keep it quiet so the other angels don’t know. Luckily, you’re young and relatively unknown. We’ll create a simulacrum of you to join in the heavenly chorus.”
“Yes,” shouted Jocelyn, pumping her arm in victory.
“Do you have to be so enthusiastic?” said the Archangel. “It makes it look like I shouldn’t be so divinely delighted to be hanging in heaven for all eternity.”
“Sorry,” said Jocelyn. “I was swept away in the moment, thinking only of myself. I should have had more consideration for your feelings.”
“That thoughtful regret is why you were eligible for heaven in the first place. I truly hope you’re happy in your new situation in limbo.
And in a flash, Jocelyn was gone. The Archangel slumped his angelic shoulders in defeat and turned back to his administrative tasks. He wondered if perhaps one day, he, too, would decide to leave heaven for limbo. It seemed likely that word would somehow get out to all the souls in heaven and more of them would be demanding to leave. It might very well be the first step in a grand exodus, an upheaval in the cosmic order. Eternity would never be the same.