So Close, Yet So Far Away

“So, you’re telling me I’m dead?”

“Yes, Lonnie Hatch, the life you grew accustomed to no longer exists.”

“How’d it happen?”

“What is the last thing you remember?”

“Um, it’s all sort of a blur but I’m getting images of a freshly baked bagel…”

“Correct.”

“Death by bagel?”

“No. By fire hydrant.”

“Why would a fire hydrant want to murder me? Surely if it held a grudge it would be against dogs, right?”

“Dogs?”

“You know, the urination and all. I’d imagine you’d get pretty pissed off by getting pissed on all the time.”

“The fire hydrant bore you no ill will.”

“That’s a comfort, at least. I’d hate to think that inanimate objects were capable of holding grudges and exacting revenge, even though I never knowingly did anything to a fire hydrant personally. Well, I might have propped my foot on one to tie a shoelace once or twice in my life.”

“You were walking to a delicatessen outside of your neighborhood despite the fact that there was one closer to your apartment…”

Deliadora bakes their bagels on-premises instead of having them trucked in. I know that bread makes you fat and all and I should have a low-cal muffin instead but muffins are too cakey for me and nothing beats warm bread first thing in the morning.”

“Be that as it may, while en route to Deliadora, a driver lost control of his taxi cab, swerved onto the sidewalk, and struck a fire hydrant, damaging it just enough for the water pressure to blast the heavy metal bonnet straight into your face.”

“Ouch.”

“Death was instantaneous. You felt no pain.”

“Small consolation, I guess.”

“The press will label it as a freak accident, but that moment had been planned from the instant you drew your first breath. It is written beside your name in the Book of Life.”

“Is that a fact? Huh, how ’bout that. Um, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“I tried to live a righteous life, and I think I pretty much succeeded, so shouldn’t I be greeted by Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates? Unless that’s who you are, then I meant no offense. I just didn’t expect you to look like a giant wheel with spokes covered with eyeballs.”

“I am of the Ophanim, the Third Order of Angels who occupy the First Sphere of the Celestial Hierarchy and serve the uprightness of Divine Justice.”

“Ah, okay.”

“Your entry into the Kingdom has been postponed because Heaven requires your assistance.”

“You need my help?”

“Heaven does, yes.”

“Heaven, a place where I can only imagine anything is possible needs help from me, a regular old run-of-the-mill human with a limited skill set?”

“As you are well aware, the Earth has been greatly impacted by the pandemic, and while this is certainly not the End Times, the scale balance has tipped in a way not favorable or conducive to Our Cause, and We are now looking to hire, for lack of a better term, a staff of volunteers with excellent credentials to return to Earth in completely new identities to assist in the de-escalation of the devastation to come.”

“Whoah, that’s a lot to unpack.”

“It is Our sincerest hope that you join Us in Our efforts to help both the Earth and Heaven, if not return to status quo, then at least usher in a new, more manageable normal.”

“Just curious, what if I were to say no?”

“Declining to return to Earth will not affect your acceptance into Heaven.”

“That’s a relief.”

“But volunteering does have certain benefits, none of which I am at liberty to discuss at the moment.”

“Because you don’t want to sway me.”

“Precisely.”

“Wanna know something? This wouldn’t be a hard choice if I were still alive. I would’ve pulled myself up by my bootstraps and got on with the work that needed to be done.”

“Why do you find it difficult now?”

“Because I’ve never been this close to Paradise, being able to finally rest. You have no idea what an enormous temptation this is. Waitaminute! Am I being tested?”

“Tested?”

“Yeah, you know, like that final exam question that determines my grade and decides my placement in Heaven, Limbo, or Hell.”

“We do not perform tests of that nature.”

“Oh really? Have a Bible handy? I can point out a few instances.”

“This is not a test.”

“You actually need my help?”

“Yes.”

“And if I say no, I still get to go to Heaven?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, but riddle me this: let’s say I go back to Earth but I slip…”

“Slip?”

“I fall short, muck up your grand plan…”

“Are you asking if will you still be admitted into The Kingdom if you sin?”

“Essentially.”

“You will not be granted a free pass. You will be judged according to how you live your new life.”

“So, my current life or past life or whatever…are you telling me it was all for nothing?”

“Not at all. It afforded you the opportunity to be of service to the grand plan, as you called it.”

“Sorry for all the questions but I gotta know: The Book of Life…does it contain a map of my entire life, even after death?”

“It does.”

“So, you basically knew my answer before you even asked the question?”

“I did.”

“Then why ask?”

“Free will. You could have said no.”

“So, will I be sent back as an adult? Different ethnicity? Different gender? Will I be rich, or better yet, influential? And what about these benefits you were talking about?”

“The answers to all your questions can be summed up in a human phrase that has become popular amongst the Celestial Hierarchy.”

“Which is?”

“No spoilers.”