Aisling was a tourist guide working in the great house of Castletown, in Celbridge, arriving daily to her place of work on horseback. She lived in a cottage on the left side of the Liffey, where her mother kept horses and a llama. Aisling was a pretty girl but not too pretty, a clever lass but not crafty, rather tall than short, and currently boyfriendless.
One day, cantering to work, along the half-mile long avenue, her horse stumbled, she was thrown, lost and (despite the doctor’s attention) did not regain consciousness. As far as she was concerned, she was now in heaven. While around on our own globe we know little about heaven – even the Bible talks more of hell – and hints of purgatory. Aisling was transported onto a distant planet of a faraway galaxy, flat and green, with some verdant hills and white mountains, and remarkably deep black holes.
Aisling was sitting in the middle of a garden, amidst small daisies and large roses, chatting to a gardener bearing the stigmata on his hands and feet.
“Yes, I am, Francis of Assisi”, said the saint, and took out a sparrow from his jeans’ pocket.
“Why aren’t you…?”
“In cassocks. Because it is nearly 800 years old, more tatty and worn than one’s soul.”
“The soul? But I have a body” – Aisling touched her own hands – “and you have one too, otherwise…”
“The trousers would fall off me. We all are part of a corporeal universe – if we lose one body Alpha and Omega will fit us with another.”
“You mean God?”
“Well, yes. He is called different names according to custom and tradition. Yahweh, Allah, Isten and so on. He is great and accommodates anybody: Muslims, Christians, Taoists, Buddhists…”
“You mean that heaven is not a gift after an honest life?”
“It is. And dishonest living earns hell. But the point is that hell is not everlasting. It would be too cruel to suffer forever – say trillions of trillions of years – for whatever we have committed far away, on the blue planet, called earth during a span of, say, eighty years.”
Aisling stood up in amazement and followed the tiny saint to the brim of a huge crater, filled with once wicked now penitent souls, climbing upwards inch by inch. Father Francis gave her binoculars so that she could see and recognise the distant figures.
“Ah, that one is N. M. of the IRA, a bomber, who blew up a dozen Prots!”, exclaimed the girl. “And, lo and behold, he is arm in arm, cheek by jowl with a UDV assassin.”
“They are supporting each other, upwards, and achieve a foot a year, together”, explained St Francis.
“And being a mile down in that hole you can compute how long will it take for them to come to the surface.”
“But who are the two guys behind them, pushing them upwards with their noses?”
“Child fanciers, who ravaged altar boys”.
“How deep is the crater?”
“Very deep. You couldn’t fathom it with a 10 miles long yardstick. And there in the bottom, visible only with a telescope, are two serial killers, murderers of millions, whose names must be familiar to you.”
“Hitler and Stalin”, said she.
“Indeed, my daughter, you are very perceptive. That 20th century pair can only advance one quarter inch each year…”
“Can we see some people who are saved and live on the surface, safe and sound?”
“Well, look, who is coming over there?”
A tiny little figure of a woman emerged from behind a green hillock with a basket in hand, full of eggs, followed by the stocky figure of an ecclesiastic dignity, carrying a triple crown in his left hand.
“Greetings, daughter”, said the man with a Polish accent (we change our bodies, but not our accents) and the little lady added: “Nice to see a fresh face on the surface.”
Aisling stepped forward, shook Mother Theresa’s hand, and then John Paul’s hand. The latter said: “We are on a mission, with Guru Gandhi, who is just coming down that ravine.” And then Gandhi appeared. He hadn’t put on an ounce of flesh since he was assassinated. But he got new teeth and smiled, addressing the other two blessed creatures: “Brother and sister. The task Alpha and Omega gave me – with you as helpers – is not simple. We have to save planet Dido in the Pleiades, because the creatures there are bent on poisoning the soil. We have to teach them to save their environment.”
This was another surprise for Aisling. Before coming here she had assumed that people would have nothing else to do in heaven but sing and pray. And yet, the further she went inland, the more activities she encountered. There were some blessed ones who tilled the soil, others, who reaped the wheat, and yet others who harvested the grapes. In the middle of a cornfield there gurgled a sweet river, the size of the Boyne, where Fr. Brendan was navigating a small craft. He moored his boat and invited Aisling to step in. She did, wetting her feet first then steadying herself by grabbing Brendan’s arm.
“Where are we going?”, she enquired.
“To the great fountain.”
Oh yes. There were choirs on the way, practising on the hillside, and, in a bam-like building, a group of men and women were chanting. Aisling could neither recognise their movements nor their language – they were Shi’ite Muslims, originally from Baghdad, recently blown up sky high, together with their mosque. Further in there was a vast palace being repainted by a multitude of people wearing a yellow star. “They are from Auschwitz”, said Brendan.
A few miles down the sweet river met another, which was dark, because of the brown leaves it carried, and at the confluence of the two streams the waters stopped and formed a round lake. There was a huge fountain in the middle of the lake. Brendan exclaimed:
“This is the fountain of life and near eternity. If you drink from the squirting water, you will stay here, almost forever. If you jump in and bathe there you will be sent to earth, where you’ve come from.”
“Did you say, almost forever?” Aisling opened her mouth wide in astonishment.
“Yes. Almost. Because nothing lasts forever. Not even in this heaven. One day Alpha and Omega will shuffle his cards, and send us elsewhere.” “Are you sure of that?”
“No, I’m not sure. Sometime ago I was sure of landing on an island in the middle of the cold sea, and it happened to be the back of a whale.”
On the far side of the lake Aisling spotted two water polo goals and two teams, the redcaps and the whitecaps, playing against each other. Brendan steered the craft nearer for better spectating. Surprised by nought Aisling registered that the redcaps were all men, the whitecaps all women.
“Husbands are playing against their wives, in a friendly”, said Brendan, but neither team is destined to win. The one who scores a goal will lose the scoring player. And the game is always played for a draw.”
“Can I try?” asked Aisling, who was a good swimmer, “can I jump in?” “Alas, you can’t. You are not married”, answered the saint.
In further fields there were tennis courts, football pitches and cricket wickets, but the opposing teams were always gender selected.
“Father Brendan”, said Aisling blushing, “can I ask for a great favour… if I am worthy of it…”
“I know what you are asking me, I know. And the answer is yes. But seeing is not always with the eyes. You can see Alpha and Omega with your heart. Every time you do something positive your heart opens, and in it Alpha and Omega operates. It directs you. He is the warm feeling what you call love.”
Paradise has also nights and days. Aisling slept on the ship which changed course, and went back to the fountain where it had come from. Aisling felt a great urge for a swim. She dived in at the fountain not remembering the consequences.
She woke up at the doctor’s clinic in Celbridge.