from here to eternity

burt lancasterHmmm, sounds like a great title for a movie.  From the collective “huh” I’m hearing, I must assume many of you young’uns don’t remember Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine and a host of Hollywood celebs in the 1953 movie.  It follows the tribulations of three U.S. Army soldiers stationed in Hawaii in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Actually, I’m not here to do a movie recollection.  Let’s talk about eternity.  Let’s discuss from here to eternity.  Assuming we are all living in the here, where are heaven and hell and when is eternity?  Several years ago as I was dangling from a stepladder picking oranges from my prolific side yard tree, three strangers – a well-dressed lady and two gentlemen in suits – strolled onto my yard.

“Hmmmm,” I thought to myself, “either the FBI has caught up with me or it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

The tracts and Bibles they were carrying were a dead giveaway that it was not the FBI.  I love my JW brothers and sisters, I love anyone who has a passion for living by a moral compass and sharing concern for the plight of mankind on this earth.  But, I have never understood the invariable first line of their proselytizing speech.

“Do you know where you are going when you die?  Where will you spend eternity?”

With all the kindness I could muster teetering on a ladder with a bucket full of oranges, I did my best to reply calmly to the three, “No, I don’t know and you don’t either.”

I don’t know and you don’t either.  For us mortals, assuming the cloak of humility necessary to unfailingly believe “I don’t know” is one of the most difficult hurdles on a spiritual path. Every one of us has wanted to know the inside scoop about heaven, hell, and eternity.  Does it exist?  Where is it?  Who is there?   My grandfather, a deeply devout, humble trekker, advised me years ago, “if your grandmother’s mother is in heaven, I’m telling St. Peter to send me to the other place.”

I loved that man.  He was unassuming, gentle and faithful to what he believed to be truth.  During his final years of life, grandpa read his Bible every day and prayed a lot.  I believe he got all his loose ends tied together before he died, but never did he tell me how or what to believe.  He never shared with me what he believed unless I asked.  Even then he was very careful to advise me that heaven, hell and eternity were mysteries that each man and woman must address within the sanctity of their own inner spaces.

That is, perhaps, the greatest challenge to anyone who treasures the words of Sumi – “It’s your road and yours alone.  Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.”  Or, as the words in Hamlet advise, “To thine own self be true.”

With so much noise spilling from pulpits and the mouths of proselytizers, it can be difficult to discern personal truth and follow personal moral compass.  Most of us have not yet mastered living in today, so why saddle ourselves with questions about eternity?

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