The List

See you in heaven if you make the list . . .

(From “Man On The Moon” as performed by R.E.M.)


It seemed like it had only been a mere few seconds earlier when the eighteen-wheeler semi-trailer truck had jack-knifed across the icy pavement of Highway 610, careening headlong into the Pontiac Grand Prix that Deborah Jennings had been driving. Everything had happened so quickly that she hadn’t even had time to scream.

One of the policemen covering the scene remarked sadly to his partner, “Poor woman, she never even had a chance.”

“I know,” agreed the second policeman, shaking his head. “I’m glad I’m not the one who has to inform her family.”

Deborah watched as her covered-up body was transferred into the back of an ambulance waiting at the scene. She observed as she hovered high above the ground. It was at this particular moment when she realized for the first time that she was dead. What an eerie feeling it was—seeing her own broken, lifeless body brought out of the wreckage. At first, she thought it was all just a horrible nightmare from which she would awaken, screaming from at any moment, but that moment never came.

Suddenly she was picked up, whisked away, and the next thing she knew she was flying through what appeared to be a long, dark tunnel. She could see nothing behind her and nothing in front of her; it was pitch-black. She felt like she was being hurtled forward at a very high rate of speed—so fast that she felt short of breath. This in itself seemed odd considering the fact that she was dead, and, after all, dead people should not be experiencing shortness of breath.

Gradually, she seemed to be slowing down. Then she began to notice some shadowy figures lined up on both sides of the tunnel. They were shrouded in the mists rising up from the bottom of the tunnel, but she was still able to recognize some of their faces. She saw her cousin Margaret who had died of ovarian cancer five years ago. There was her Uncle Ned who had been killed in the Vietnam War, along with her best friend Jennifer who had been killed in an automobile accident when they were teenagers. She saw her Grandma Jennings who had died last spring of a heart attack. She even saw Mrs. McDonald, the neighbor from down the street, who had died from a stroke two years ago. They were all there, her dead relatives and friends, smiling at her, waving at her, and reaching out to her. But she could not touch them—not yet.

Then a dim light appeared in front of her and another at the end of the tunnel. As she came closer to the light, it became brighter, and it seemed to radiate an amazing warmth. What was the feeling it poured out to her? Welcome? Yes, that was it—welcome.  And something else, something stronger. Love. Unconditional love. Oh, how she wanted to go further toward the light. She knew that was where she was supposed to go. But it seemed the closer she came to the light, the slower she began to travel.

“Faster,” she pleaded, “I want to go faster!”

“Not yet,” answered a voice from behind her.

She turned around to see who had spoken, but there was no one there. She waited for a moment, but there was only silence.

Puzzled, she asked, “What do you mean?”

The voice spoke again. “You must wait.”

“But why must I wait?” she asked, noticing that she was now going so slowly that she may as well have been crawling.

“First we must check to see if you are on the list,” the voice explained.

“List? What list?”

Silence. It seemed as though a very long time passed before the voice spoke again, and this time it spoke just as a patient teacher would speak when giving a student an answer that the teacher feels the student ought to already know:

“The list to get in.”

These words shocked Deborah into dumbfounded silence. The list to get in? She never even thought such a thing was a possibility. She had always assumed that when she died, she would pass into that realm where her loved ones were waiting for her. She had never considered that she might not be able to be with them.

Her mind started reeling with the reality of the situation. What if she was not on the list and could not get in? What if she could not be with the people who loved her, and she ended up alone? How was she going to face such a fate by herself? She had never been alone in her entire life. She had always been surrounded by family and friends.

“How does a person get on the list?” she asked, hoping to get some clue as to whether she might be eligible.

Another moment or two passed before the voice answered, as if trying to decide whether or not to tell her.

Finally the answer came. “Good deeds.”

Good deeds? Was that all? That seemed so simple. Deborah was certain she had performed good deeds at some point in her life. She began to frantically search her memory for any good deeds she had done, but she could not remember a single one.

Involuntarily, she began to move slowly backward through the tunnel, away from the light.

“No! No! Please, don’t take me away!” she pleaded.

“We’re sorry, but we don’t see your name on the list,” the voice boomed.

Deborah felt herself in the depths of despair.

Then suddenly she heard a loud bark and the panting of a dog beside her.

“Molly! Hiya girl!” Deborah called, relieved at the friendly sound.

Molly was Deborah’s golden retriever who had died nine years before. Deborah had found Molly lying by the side of the road half-dead when she was puppy. She had brought her home, nursed her back to health, and became her beloved mistress. Deborah had saved Molly’s life. And now Molly was going to save Deborah.

“Wait! My good deed! Molly’s my good deed!” Deborah cried out.

The voice boomed once more, and this time it sounded as though there were a smile with that voice as it said, “You are correct. You are on the list. Welcome home.”

 

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