“Quiet, please,” says the docent, his voice traveling above the thousands gathered. “You expected this to be different, especially you followers of Jesus and Muhammad. At one time—another time, you would have been disappointed that this is not Valhalla and you did not find Odin. Mythology brought you comfort. It was not wasted. We have work to do.”
The First Place, where I arrived upon my death in October 1969, is filled with beings, phosphorescent, floating and grounded. The grounded ones have been here longer, waiting, like me, to be told what is next.
It’s like this when you arrive: all the past lives you could only see in flickering light on earth are revealed chronologically—the dark caves, ice floes, wheat fields, a shaft of sun through a forest clearing, ferris wheels, and flying through clouds in an airplane. You see your loved ones across generations, the DNA stringing—your father in combat gear, that precious daughter in a tutu, your lover in his tricorn hat whispers to you on Beacon Street, best friend chases goats in ancient India. It is bittersweet, this reeling.
The docent says the First Place is where we begin. There is, in fact, a stairway to heaven but we’re not all invited. Heaven has nothing to do with gods or rewards. It is a place of recovery. Those who are invited are those who suffered on earth: the suicides, alcoholics, manic-depressives, the ones who suffered violence. They are the Fragiles, says the docent. And everyone else, those who had easier lives, devote themselves to the Fragiles.
I had a good life, I think, except for the last day. Running across a madman outside Modesto, on my 18th birthday. Am I a Fragile? Two beings take my hands and walk me to the stairs.