“Get ready, it should be any moment now. Take your places.”
There was some last minute scurrying as places were reassigned by the information coming in faster than the speed of thought.
“Here. Here. Present. Right on!”
Everyone chucked at the “Right on!” comment. Everyone except the Director.
“Cut the crap, Herald. We only get one shot at this. It has to be perfect. Otherwise HE will have a word or two with you. “
Herald witled a bit at the implied interview with HIM.
“Sorry, Boss. Won’t happen again.”
The Director moved on - giving a quick smile that would have blinded even the blind- Herald returned to character.
The information was coming in torrents now. Bits and pieces of thoughts, memories from childhood, the war, married life…enough for the Director to make a few changes in both the number of relatives, and some of the scenery.
“We need a few harps. Seraph, we are going to need a warm up- Ave Maria, I think. “
“Is he Catholic?”
The Director paused for a second, searching the streams of information for clues.
“Yes, but lapsed.”
“Aren’t they all?”
That made even the Director laugh out loud.
Seraph spoke up:
“Ave Maria is a good choice. Choir, pitch!”
Fifteen voices reached perfect harmony at the same moment.
Seraph made everyone laugh again.
“Perfect. Angelic even.”
This time the Director had to shush them all, the laughter was contagious. Even as the Director added the last touches to the scene- she quietly chuckled under her breath.
“We need a Saint or two in here.”
“We have Christopher and Joseph, Mary says she will be here in time too.”
The Director smiled. Some of her crew were ahead of her, and Mary never missed a Catholic.
The light was blinding. Mark watched with fascination as it formed a tunnel that seemed to wind down from the heavens to his hospital bed. The tunnel grew wider, brighter, until his eyes watered and he had to look away. Like some kind of searchlight with texture, the light tunnel wrapped itself around his body, lifting him from his bed.
He could feel himself floating up the tube like tunnel. His body becoming stronger, prettier and translucent. Like he was made of pliable glass or crystal. The light was glowing brighter as he floated up and away. He turned his head to look back.
His body was laying perfectly still on the hospital bed. He could see his wife holding his now cold hand. Next to her stood Jason and Sherry - each of those had a hand on one of Susan’s shoulders. Even from here he could see the tears and feel the grief. He sent a brief “It will be okay. I will be waiting for you” back to Susan.
She must have heard it. Because he saw her squeeze his hand and that little smirk she got when he made her feel good appeared (albeit briefly) on her face. He turned back toward the light.
Mark was bewildered. The tunnel was coming to an end. He could hear singing. No. That wasn’t the right word. It was singing, just not like any singing he ever heard on Earth. The voices blinded his ears the way the light had blinded his eyes. It was almost to beautiful to understand.
He recognized the song though: Ave Maria.
Mark saw shadows moving around, he couldn’t quite make them out. Then he heard their voices. One sounded like his Mother…another like his Father. Was that Aunt Cecile, Mary Jo? Oh my gosh, is that Debbie? (Mark’s first wife and High School Sweetheart)
The light dimmed in the tunnel. Mark could see clearly now. A couple of Angels were holding his hands, leading him down onto a floor that looked like a puffy white cloud and walls that were not quite “walls”; more like a feeling that you were in a room of some sort.
Off in one corner were some rather holy looking people he didn’t know. It took Mark a second to realize they were Saints…and “Holy Crap! Is that MARY?!”
Mary didn’t answer in words, but merely nodded a beatific smile that flooded Mark’s heart with welcome.
Everyone closed in on Mark. Everyone seemed to be able to hug him at the same time without any press of being crowded. Mark closed his eyes, and rejoiced. He had made it. He was in Heaven. It had to be.
When he opened his eyes, he wasn’t so sure.
If he could still breathe, he would have stopped breathing.
The Saints faded first. Just drifted away like barbecue smoke in a gentle breeze…losing their solidity - at first- then gently parting as a wisp. Next went the Choir. Then the Angels. Last to leave were his Mom and Dad, Aunt Cecile, Mary Jo, and Debbie. All of them smiling, or giving little blessing like waves to Mark. Debbie was a little cheeky and blew Mark a kiss.
Then, they too, faded into a mist, then a wisp, and then a vapor that left the impression of someone having been there just a minute ago. Then the “room” was empty. Just Mark and a being that was more a formed thought than any physical shape.
“Where am I?”
“Here. In the Orientation Room.”
“The Orientation Room? What? I mean, where? Or how? Or…”
“Shush now. It is okay. You have made a good transition. My team didn’t even have to linger once you saw them. It doesn’t always go this smoothly. “
“What? What team? Am I dead? Is this Heaven?”
The Director gave the same smile a mother gives a three year old who asks so many questions in a row that there is no time to answer them all.
“No Mark. This is the Orientation Room. We have found it makes the transition easier for most folks. So we try to match up their beliefs in life as best we can, with their first few moments of being dead.”
“Then where was my brother Kevin in that welcoming committee…didn’t he…didn’t he…well…make it?”
Mark felt a pang of guilt. He knew there was no way Kevin was going to make it to Heaven. Gloating in Heaven, or wherever this place was, didn’t seem the time or place to be doing that.
The Director smiled again. She knew everything Mark was thinking. For information was still pouring in.
“Kevin is here. We just didn’t bring him to the Orientation Room, because you would have thought you went to Hell. And that makes the transition even more difficult.”
“He isn’t in hell? I would have bet money that he wouldn’t get into Heaven.”
The Director sighed.
“There isn’t any Hell, Mark. Never was. Never will be.”
The Director sighed. It had been going so well. On the other hand, this is why there was an Orientation Room, to help them understand.
“Mark, use your brain not your prejudices. How could any intelligent being blame you for eternity for a few mistakes made in just sixty or seventy years? In a while, you will learn how Forgiveness really works. Not as your human mind wanted it to work, with self righteous judgment.
Did you hold Jason responsible his whole life for that time he put your favorite watch in the toilet to see if it would flush when he was only three?”
Mark laughed out loud. He had been so mad at Jason - but he had to admit the memory made him laugh later. He and Susan had laughed about it later that night. The story reached almost mythical heights in the family history. The Director and Mark both laughed together as the “Memory” played out.
For on Mark’s forty eighth birthday, Jason gave him his favorite birthday present ever- an exact copy of the watch that Jason had flushed all those years ago. When Mark opened the gift and saw what it was, he busted out laughing, holding it up for everyone to see.
When Jason said: “Don’t flush this one down the toilet.”
Everyone erupted in a belly laugh that went on for a long time. When Mark was buried, that watch was on his wrist.
The “Memory/Scene/Event” faded.
“I see what you mean. I will look at my whole life like that watch incident. Is that it?”
The Director smiled, the flow was back. This was going to be one of the easier transitions.
“In a way. You’ll see more and understand more now that we can move on.”
The Director pulled Mark towards her. Mark went willingly. He felt safer, more loved, more unafraid than he ever remembered feeling on Earth.
“Where do we go from here?”
The Director stopped at a wall that wasn’t really there, just the impression of one:
“You go learn some more, understand some more, and after a while, you will be assigned to a task or career that fits your understanding. It will be a joy. Everything up here is. “
Her laughter made Mark feel even better.
“What about you?”
“I have to get ready. Someone is on their way to the Orientation Room. It was nice meeting you.”
Mark felt the sensation of a hug. A real hug. A hug that included all that Mark was or ever would be. Just as he is. It made him cry with relief.
“Now go. I have work to do.”
Mark walked down the cloud floor. He turned back to take a last look at the Orientation Room. He laughed out loud. The choir was singing : “Rock of Ages.”