Metatron was conducting the orientation seminar today. Heaven had daily orientation seminars for new arrivals. The rate of new arrivals varied from day to day. For example, there was a crush of new arrivals on August 23-24, 1572. But today was a slow day.
Jesse was one of the newcomers at the sparsely attended seminar. He had died in his sleep the night before.
To be frank, Jesse was a bit apprehensive about heaven. His pastor taught everyone that heaven was a place where the saints spent forever and a day on a pink cloud plucking their harps. Jesse never found that a very appealing prospect. Still, he took it on faith that it must be better than it sounded. And, in any case, the infernal alternative was decidedly less appealing.
But Jesse was pleasantly surprised to find out that heaven was far more interesting that he’d been led to believe. Up until now, his life had been a disappointment. When he was young, he was hoping to travel the world. That’s before his dad walked out on his mom. As the firstborn, Jesse became the man of the house. He had to help out, supporting the family and raising his younger brothers.
The strain proved to be too much for his mother, who became an alcoholic. So Jesse had even more to handle.
In high school, he fell in love with Miranda. But while Miranda was very fond of Jesse, he had his own family to care for, so she ended up tying the knot with Bret Buffer, a college-bound business major.
Jesse was broken-hearted, and while he had other opportunities to marry, he never got over Miranda. She was the love of his life. He couldn’t bring himself to marry anyone else.
So he never go to do what he wanted out of life. He was consumed by duties.
But heaven had its compensations. Innumerable compensations. The New Jerusalem had a rich cultural life. One of the first things Jesse did there was to attend a concert at the Church of the Firstborn where Miriam sang some new Handelian arias, accompanied by Jubal on lyre, St. Cecilia on organ, and Gabriel on trumpet.
As a cosmopolitan city, the New Jerusalem also had a wonderful range of international cuisine. When he wasn’t lecturing on the finer points of angelology, Thomas Aquinas made a killer Ossobuco. And his rendition of “O Sole Mio” was the greatest thing since Franco Corelli.
And even beyond the main attractions of the New Jerusalem itself were the holodecks. As Metatron explained, when John 14:2 said “In my Father’s house are many mansions,” that really meant many holodecks, but since there were no holodecks in the First Century, the Gospel had to use a low-tech term.
There was a Venice holodeck, a Lake Como holodeck, a Swiss Alpine holodeck, a Marseilles holodeck, a Colorado holodeck, a New Zealand holodeck, and so on.
Mind you, the heavenly holodecks were selective. There was no Las Vegas holodeck, or Monte Carlo holodeck. No Bel-Air mansions. Or stretched limos. No program for Versailles.
Likewise, the holodecks were selective in other ways. There was a Rome holodeck, but it didn’t have St. Peters. The Marseilles holodeck didn’t have a red light district. The Geneva holodeck didn’t have a jewelry store.
It’s not that heaven didn’t have information on all these places. Heaven’s mainframe had detailed blueprints for city and town, from year to year.
But there were many things that didn’t interest the saints.
Hell had its share of holodecks, too. And the infernal holodecks had various accessories absent from the heavenly holodecks.
The infernal version of the Rome holodeck did have St. Peter’s. Every day, Alexander VI lit a candle to the Blessed Virgin and prayed to her to deliver him from Purgatory. But she never appeared to him or answered his prayer. And it never dawned on him that he wasn’t in Purgatory.
There was a holodeck for suicide bombers. Or should I say, “martyrs”? Upon death, they were transported directly to a harem with 72 virgins. 72 breathtaking houris. Paradise indeed! It was hard to choose which one to deflower first. Only there was one little catch. When the “martyr” looked down, he saw, to his dismay, that he was missing a critical part of his anatomy. He left it behind in the smoldering ashes when he pulled the string on his shaheed belt. Now he had to spend eternity in a harem without the necessary equipment to capitalize on his surroundings.
On a related note, another holodeck was a replica of the Playboy Mansion. It even had a complete set of Playmates, from Marilyn Monroe to Anna Nicole Smith. Hefner was delighted when he first arrived there—especially since he was rejuvenated. No more Viagra! There was one problem, though. The Playmates had an oddly diaphanous quality. Whenever he tried to touch one, his hand would pass right through her. It was all a bit frustrating.
There was a holodeck where the Black Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan spent eternity together on the same island. There was a holodeck where Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump were bunkmates in a 5x10 cell. There was a holodeck occupied by Josef Mengele and his victims—who took turns returning the favor.
Of course, most of the saints knew nothing about the infernal holodecks. Exceptions were sometimes made if they wanted to know about the fate of an old friend. Heaven was big, busy place, but after a while you couldn’t help noticing the absence of certain contemporaries.
Jesse’s best friend in high school was Tom Butterfield. Tom was a nice, outgoing guy, but he became a compulsive gambler and womanizer. That, in turn, drove him to the bottle. Jesse tried to get him involved in a good church, but it never stuck.
Jesse was worried about what happened to his old friend. He imagined a devil with a pitchfork stewing his high school buddy in the lake of fire. He hesitantly asked Metatron if that’s what happened.
Metatron allowed him to see inside the infernal holodeck. As it turned out, Tom’s fate was a humdrum affair. His holodeck was a replica of the Sands Hotel. Sinatra was singing “My Way” to an empty lounge. In the corner, Tallulah Bankhead was trying to seduce a mannequin of Liberace. Sinatra also had a falling out with Sammy after telling him he was sick of hearing “Candy Man.”
The card tables, roulette tables, and one-armed bandits were deserted. Most of the clientele were in the bar, drinking away their sorrows. The bartender bore a striking resemblance to Hellboy. Peter Lawford and Dean Martin were holding a contest to see which one could drink the other under the table. And that’s where Jesse spotted his old friend, on a barstool—nursing a margarita. It was a bit of an anticlimax.
Jesse always wondered how Jesus could meet millions of saints. Even in heaven, there were only so many hours in a day. But heaven had a Jesus holodeck. Although Jesus couldn’t be physically present to every saint, he could be virtually present. He was, after all, divine. He only had one body. His body could only be in one place at a time. But his virtual body was accessible to any saint at any time.
It was easy to lose track of time in heaven. There were so many things to see and do. There were holodecks that took you back into the past. A virtual past, to be sure, but indistinguishable from the real thing.
Jesse was fond of opera singers. There were some famous singers who lived before the phonograph. Now Jesse had a chance to hear Lucrezia Agujari, Angelica Catalani, Mrs. Billington, Antonio Montagnana, Luigi Lablache, and Marietta Alboni.
There were also some holodecks that could take you to possible worlds. To what might have been, but never was. Jesse was curious to know what would have happened if he’d had a chance to marry Miranda. So he ran the program.
As it turns out, she was a terrible nag. The car was never new enough. The house was never big enough. The furniture was never good enough. The silverware was never shiny enough.
He was also curious to know what would have happened if his dad hadn’t deserted them. As it turns out, his younger brothers became unbelievers, just like their dad.
Because he raised them, they took after Jesse rather than the father who abandoned them. When Jesse raised them, they become believers—just like their big brother. So Jesse could now see some good in the hardships he suffered.
Jesse took the opportunity to tour the world. Weeks turned into months, and years, and decades. But after a while, he wanted to settle down. And he wanted someone to share his life with.
He began by building a house. Of all the places he saw, his favorite spot on earth was Middleton Plantation. The ponds. The gardens. The river. The swans and peacocks. The majestic oak trees, draped in Spanish moss.
However, the original house lay in ruins. What should he erect in its place? Sir Christopher Wren suggested that he build something in the Mediterranean style, since that would be better suited the subtropical climate. Maybe something like the Getty Villa, but not as big.
The entrance had a two-story atrium with skylights, fountains, and an aviary with songbirds. The exterior columns and windowpanes were modeled on the Doges’ Palace. The upper deck had a sweeping view of the outer peristyle, as well as the river below—which caught the afternoon breeze. The furniture was casual and comfortable. Nothing fancy.
He also built a chapel with iridescent and Dichroic glass walls.
Finally, he built a little beach cabin on one of the barrier islands for the summer months. The climate controls were adjusted to simulate the illusion of the four seasons.
Now he needed to find a wife to make his house a home. Heaven had a number of single saints, although they tended to pair off shortly after they arrived. In heaven, everyone was compatible.
There was a nice looking girl from the Thirteen Century by the name of Natalia. She was so busy exploring the many amenities of heaven that she lost track of time.
Natalia’s mother-tongue was Provençal, but heaven was a polyglot place, and after you’d been there for two or three centuries you picked up quite a few new languages. Natalia was fluent in Umbrian, Akkadian, Etruscan, Basque, Berber, Yiddish, Pictish, Gaelic, Ossetic, Cherokee, Punjabi, Mandarin, Quechua, and Valspeak—as well as several seraphic and cherubic dialects, the pronunciation of which was quite trying for humanoids to master.
Heaven also had a lingua franca. This was the Ur-tongue of Adam, from which all the subsequent tongues of man derive. It was also the language employed by the Seraphim and Cherubim when addressing the Almighty.
Thankfully, since he used to own a dog-eared copy of the King James Bible, Jesse was already fluent in the lingua franca of heaven.
Natalia had always wanted to be a wife and mother, but her step dad didn’t approve of her boyfriend, and sent her to a nunnery. Jesse and Natalia first bumped into each other as they were strolling through the hanging gardens of Babylon. After a brief courtship, they were married in Santa Sophia. John Bunyan was the best man, and Christina Rossetti was the bridesmaid, while Calvin performed the wedding ceremony. It was, you might say, a marriage made in heaven. They lived happily ever after, and I do mean “ever after,” for there was no death to do them part.
Truly the meek shall inherit the earth.