I no longer believe in heaven.
That must mean I'm going straight to hell. But I don't believe in hell either.
However, I would love to spend an eternity on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Even when I am dead, I know I would really have a wonderful time enjoying the breathtaking vistas, fabulous Margherita pizza, homemade pasta and caprese salads with fresh buffalo mozzarella. Go ahead, pour the local wines down my throat to speed all this deliciousness into my belly.
I stopped believing in heaven when I stopped having much faith in the Catholic Church. The sexual abuse scandal with the priests pushed me over the edge and sealed the deal.
What you leave behind is not
what is engraved in stone monuments,
but what is woven into the lives of others.
Having attended Catholic schools for sixteen years, my doubt began in fourth grade under strict Adrian Dominican nuns at our wet wool, musty, bologna smelling elementary school.
Patrick Ross, a ten year old boy who lived a few doors down the street from us, tragically died of a brain tumor. Before our solemn, morning classroom prayers, heads bowed palms pressed together, I raised my hand and asked Sister Marie O'Dowd if we could offer a prayer for the soul of Patrick. There was always room for a "special intention."
"NO!" she barked. He wasn't a Catholic. Our prayers couldn't help his soul.
What a bitch.
I still feel anger towards this cruel, hateful nun today, some fifty years later. Imagine her teaching fourth graders.
What did an innocent, ten year old boy do in his short life to deserve this contempt? Of course, in the early 60's one never dared to question the behavior of a sacred nun.
So much for a loving, compassionate and charitable religious institution.
I've always felt that the more religious someone proclaims to be, the more unkind and judgmental they actually are.
Our reward for living a God-fearing, devout, Catholic life was the promise that your soul would be reunited, with your loved ones, beyond the Pearly Gates of heaven for all eternity. St. Peter, standing at the door, would mark your name off his list as you checked in.
Those that didn't accomplish this feat were doomed for an eternity among the fires of hell in the presence of Satan himself. Or sent to Purgatory waiting and waiting for someone to pray your way out on All Souls Day. Don't forget about Limbo, for the unbaptized babies born with mortal sin.
The hierarchy of the afterlife is indeed, quite complicated.
Well, I don't know if I could be happy for an eternity with my soul hanging out with trillions of billions of other souls up there in the clouds of a heavenly paradise. I prefer to love and cherish my loved ones down here, on Earth, while we are still alive.
The God I believe in thinks so, too.
But I do know quite certainly, I would be thrilled to spend an eternity on the Amalfi Coast.
Smelling the spray of the salty sea, sipping frothy cappuccinos in a charming cafe, savoring a pistachio gelato before a long, afternoon nap on a sunny terrace or picking giant lemons from acres of luscious trees.
Setting the table with gorgeous Vietri pottery, listening for the Song of the Sirens and catching my breath watching vespas speed along on hairpin turns, along the coastal highway.
That sounds pretty heavenly to me.
My beloved, Irish Catholic mother, Boo, was a great cook and loved to entertain. For Christmas one year she gave me a popover pan. We both loved the delicate, baked puff of dough that towered six inches out of the pan. When she would come to visit, it was mandatory to bake a batch just for her.
After her funeral, almost nine years ago (My God, has it already been that long? I still miss her horribly. Every. Single. Day.), my three sisters pledged to try to attend mass more often to honor our mother.
I vowed instead to bake more popovers for my family and friends, because that would remind me more of her than anything found in a church. Just pure Motherly love.
I think she's okay with this. I believe God is, too.
Do I imagine my mother's soul being in heaven?
I imagine her soul living in a thatched roof cottage in Ireland. Flowers would thrive in her garden, mostly red, with plenty of geraniums, impatiens, fuchsia and those dark pink, almost maroon hydrangeas.
Driving her white Cutlass to morning mass over emerald green hills, she would later perform her volunteer work for St. Vincent's Hospice patients with grace and dignity.
In the morning, with a mug of black coffee, she would easily solve the crossword puzzle and Jumble in the Indianapolis Star before her second cup was even poured.
There would be a large basket full of catalogs by her chair and photos of her nine grandchildren smiling down on her big heart. A stack of thick library books would be piled on her end table. They would all be read within the week, returned, and a new stack brought home.
At noon, a lively bridge game would commence with her playing her hand with precision for a Grand Slam. Of course she would serve a tasty lunch to all the "nice ladies" present. It would be the best meal they had all month.
Boo's soul would savor a delicious seafood meal with "the sisters" on the patio at Fishy Fishy in Kinsale, before heading west in search of Fungie, the iconic Irish dolphin,swimming in Dingle Harbor.
A stop in Kenmare to purchase candy marshmallow toothbrushes and teeth would be grand, and later a pint in the snug inside Dick Mack's Pub across from St. Mary's Church.
During Happy Hour, a dry, Tangueray martini on the rocks would whet her appetite for a dinner of fresh salmon, colcannon and brown bread. Yummers.
Later in the evening, sipping a cup of hot tea, Boo would watch "House" in her nightgown to wind down before counting her blessings and a good night's sleep.
Listening to Irish music in the pub, after the locals began to fire up their fiddles, flutes and drums, she would tap her toes and fingertips to the familiar ballads being sung. Her Irish eyes would be smiling ever so brightly.
Now that's a heaven custom made, just for Boo.
This is my simple religion.
There is no need for temples
and no need for complicated philosophies.
My brain and my heart act as my temples.
My philosophy is kindness.
The Dalai Lama
My beloved father known as "Toots" to me, died way too young, just two months after he turned sixty seven. He waited patiently, over nineteen years, for the soul of Agnes (Boo) to arrive.
I imagine his soul in an old, stone fishing lodge in the north woods of Canada, with all his tackle boxes, rods and reels, fishing for Northern Pike and Coho Salmon.
A savory pot of split pea soup or spaghetti sauce would simmer all afternoon on the stove.
Stacks of books on World War II, Mad Magazine and the Wall Street Journal would be nearby, along with his magnifying glass for reading the small print.
During dinner, Toots would quiz the table on complicated math story problems (which I still can't figure out) and then check to be sure the double dummies could correctly name all ten Canadian provinces (easy).
There would be a gorilla mask, hiding in a cabinet, from Riley's Trick Shop, ready to make an appearance when his teenaged daughter's new boyfriend rang the doorbell.
He would still be polishing all of his shoes on Sunday evenings. Good shoes, polished and shined, were the hallmark of a well-dressed man.
His soul would pack his favorite little orange bag for travels to the Yukon territory, Lake Louise, then on to Prince Edward Island, with a detour to the Gaspe peninsula for a Normandy cocktail and a bowl of onion soup.
Listening to WJJD (W yay yay D) on the radio of his blue Corvette Stingray, on the way to get tomatoes and musk melons at Rueter's farm stand, he would exceed the speed limit often, but never get a ticket. Zilch.
Since it's summer, the time is ripe for a Skittles Tournament on the porch and a Cookout Picnic Breakfast for over a hundred friends in the forest preserve park that would last well into the evening.
At the end of the day, Toots would enjoy his glass of "hootch," (VO and water) before heading to the kitchen to make a "secret sauce" for grilling his most requested meal, shish-kebobs.
On Christmas Eve, with Mitch Miller playing carols on the stereo, the Douglas fir decorated with hundreds of lights and the fireplace roaring, he would become the best Santa this girl has ever known.
Toots is definitely resting in peace in his heavenly home.
Don't worry, I know what you're thinking. Boo and Toots are together all the time. Souls travel with ease across the Atlantic. Not a problem. An ocean couldn't keep them apart.
No longer a church goer, I'm just trying to live a simple and honorable life. Be kind, show empathy, be deeply grateful for the miracles of nature and my incredible family and dear friends. Appreciate the sunshine, snow and thunderstorms, good health, glasses so I can still read and clean water to drink.
Take nothing for granted, remember people's birthdays and pet the head of every dog I meet.
Don't judge anyone. Mind your own business.
Smile at the cashiers in Jewel, hold the door for a mom with a stroller or bring dinner to a elderly neighbor with a broken hip.
Simple gestures of kindness. That's it. No scripture. No preaching.
The God I believe in understands all of this.
Upon my death, my soul will be shipped off to Naples. Once there, Giovanni will pick me up and safely drive me to Sorrento. Frank Sinatra will be singing on the radio. Thankfully, we will stop for a Neapolitan pizza on the way, since I won't have eaten a thing for at least a week. Maybe two. My soul will be starving.
Once I get to my apartment and settle in for all eternity, I'll sit on the balcony, gazing at Mt. Vesuvius across the Bay of Naples and sip an iced cold Limoncello. George Bailey and I really did have a wonderful life. And then I can rest, in peace.
Grazie and Arrivederci
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.