Opinion » Bill Cope

My Stretch in Heaven

Make sure you're wearing sensible shoes

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It never occurred to me that I had been to Heaven until I came across a news item concerning the subject of the book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. At age 6, this youngster had spent time in a coma and told of his divine adventures when he came out of it. The story was put into book form by his father--a "Christian therapist," whatever that is--and the result has become a best-seller.

However, the boy, now 16, has recanted his story, admitting he made the whole thing up. Even more intriguing to me is a literary genre of which I was previously unaware. You might call it "Heavenly travelogues," as it specializes in ostensibly true accounts of people who claim to have croaked, gone to Heaven and then returned, full of stories, about how neat it is up there. As a writer who would do almost anything to sell lots and lots of books, I slapped my head and thought, "Why didn't I think of that!?"

But it's never too late to be born again (as a commercially viable writer), so in the hereafter (of this column), I am relating my own experiences beyond the Pearly Gates, with the option to expand it into a full-fledged book, should I be invited by a publisher to do so.

Incidentally, the family name of the man who put his son's whoppers into print is "Malarkey," and I did not make that up.

•••

I came out of the tunnel and knew immediately I was in a good place. "Is that bacon I smell?" I asked of my Orientation Angel, and she (he?) asked me if I was hungry. Well who wouldn't be, after all that climbing toward the light?

(By the way, you should know that you don't actually float up to Heaven like Patrick Swayze did after he'd said his final goodbyes to Demi. It's more of a hike, and a rigorous one at that—like scaling Mt. Fuji, or being on the treadmill for 24 hours straight with the incline set at 10. But don't let that freak you out. Remember, by the time you're on that journey, there's no such thing as being out of shape.)

So anyway, before my O.A. took me to check in, we dropped by the cafeteria, the source of that enticing aroma. "It must be Bacon Monday," I quipped, making my first attempt at post-mortem humor. With no hint that she thought it was funny, she said, "Everyday is Bacon Day, Mr. Cope, if that be your bliss. Have all you want."

Thinking it might not be wise to get all gluttony on my first day in Heaven, I took only a couple of strips and a slice of unbuttered whole wheat, explaining that my cardiologist had me on a low-fat diet. "You needn't worry about that anymore. We do allow dogs here, but not cholesterol."

Let me tell you, you haven't had bacon until you've had bacon in Heaven. I said as much to my O.A. and asked her why it was so much better than any I'd ever had on Earth. "Because it comes from free-range pigs who have accepted Jesus as their savior," she answered, which made sense, when you think about it.

Our walk over to check-in was like a May Day stroll across the most exquisitely beautiful, giant scrapbooking project you can ever imagine, only instead of glue-stiffened doilies and glitter, it was real ice sculptures and precious gems the size of bean bag chairs. I asked my O.A. what her (his?) name was, hoping the answer would satisfy my curiosity as to exactly what gender I was dealing with. Seriously, one moment she looked like Tilda Swinton, and the next it was David Bowie. Who wouldn't be a little confused?

"Only a few of the top-tier angels have names, Mr. Cope. Grunts like me neither need them nor want them." She went on to explain that it had something to do with avoiding lawsuits.

I wondered aloud what our chances were of running into any celebrities—perhaps even Jesus—and my O.A. said, "It's possible you might see Joan Rivers. She likes to hang out around here and make fun of what the newcomers are wearing. And I know Daniel Boone has a condo up the path a ways. But I wouldn't count on running into Jesus. He's gotten to be a little Howard Hughesy since that thing on Golgotha. Likes to keep to Himself." Then she did that thing with her finger spinning around her ear like we do on Earth anytime Pat Robertson says something.

For all I know, it may have been minutes before we got to check-in, or months (Heaven Standard Time). But I must save most of what I experienced for any sequels I am contracted to supply. Suffice it to say, it was worth dying for.

At the check-in booth, St. Peter must have been on break. The woman behind the counter looked an awfully lot like Tammy Faye Bakker, but I was afraid to ask. I was not so timid about asking for "smoking"—figured what the heck—but "Tammy" said, "There appears to be some problem with your reservation, Mr. Cope. Would it be under "Bill," or "William?" I can't seem to find your...

And it was at exactly that moment when an off-duty ambulance driver did a Heimlich Maneuver on me, blowing that McNugget out of my windpipe and all the way across the dining area into the Playland ball pit. As my breath rushed back into my lungs, he said, "You were blue, buddy! I thought you were a goner."

"Yes," I said, with a beatific glow upon my face. "And a glorious trip it was."