For days my guests and I had managed to discuss a myriad of subjects, not all related to theology but today was our first day of rest, a well-earned pause from deep philosophical discussions. The plan was to drive a fifty kilometre journey to the airfield beside the Tibetan Monastery at the invitation of Lobsang, the monk who had arranged this week-long getaway. Lobsang was a delightful man, perhaps the kindest amongst us all, able to see the carrot at the end of the tunnel. Most of us couldn’t even see the light if truth be told.
It seemed to me sitting in the back seat, that we were an odd bunch of clergy driving to a date with destiny. Beyond the dusty windows of our bus, the airfield beckoned us, this strange group of fish out of water. Our long days of training complete the last time we’d been together months before when we stayed with Lobsang and the other monks at their magnificent monastery next to the little airfield, the surrounding hills our continual launch pad. During that retreat we’d learned a lot more than hang-gliding. When monks pray for example, they chant, voices silky smooth, putting the rest of us to shame with our plain old Hail Marys and Inshallahs. Tibetans rise before dawn, they pray and meditate incessantly, eat no meat and their entire lives are one musical prayer.
So months ago we’d done our tandem flights and we had each progressed. We were to become birds of the sky flying on our own. Harnessed up, one by one we were airborne. Father Frank was first, the Catholic chap from Condobolin. Baboucarr the Muslim fellow from Senegal was next, followed by Akash the Hindu cleric. Then Lobsang took to the air and finally it was my turn. My head was truly in the clouds. It was the perfect day for our first solo.
Instantly it was like I’d passed through the door of enlightenment. One moment I was flying serenely in my hang-glider and then suddenly I was hit by something and it wasn’t an updraft, but in a split second I was plummeting towards a cliff with nowhere to land. I must have blacked out. Then the next few seconds played out in slow-motion. I was in a dream-like state and I began to experience an immense joy. Ahead of me, surrounding me, as far as the eye could see, like friendly ghostly apparitions of their former selves, a whole world of people all floated and existed in total harmony. Saying as far as the eye could see isn’t right because it was as if it was from here to eternity. There was no end to my comprehension of what I was experiencing. I was cloaked in ghosts. I was wearing the history of humanity. I’m lost for the correct words.
Mother Teresa was there, can you believe it? She was sitting right in the front row looking like an angel but dressed in black. Hitler was there too, sitting sheepishly like a naughty little schoolboy. Didn’t have his moustache anymore. Pol Pot was there too, stupid little pipsqueak…both of them in the very back row in the uncomfortable seats without a decent view. Idi Amin, Mussolini, boy there were all the bad guys, women too, but lots more guys up the back than I would have imagined.
I was only there for a brief moment but the absolute joyous experience that I had was like being shrouded in ultimate happiness, like orgasmic pleasure titillating every nerve ending in my whole body. This was truly heaven and I was heaven’s guest for a fleeting moment in time.
I could remember that I’d been in a hang-glider and about to crash, but I wasn’t there anymore. I wasn’t about to collide with a cliff-face. I’d arrived in another world. And I discovered that I’d been right all along about heaven and hell.
No-one goes to bloody hell. What type of God would do that to anyone? Was this the creator’s way of showing me I was right? Everyone gets to heaven in the end. Heaven has all the good folk, those who’ve never done any wrongdoings in the front row, and all the others progressively further and further back, right down to the back rows. It was like a theatre in reverse, but a spherical one with no end – a bit like an expanding universe, which of course is what the universe does. It’s forever expanding. The people at the back close to the border with infinity miss out because of the people in front of them, a forever frustrating world of not being able to get a good view of the astonishingly marvellous events that continually occur. You thought Mozart and The Beatles were good. They had nothing on the shows and experiences that occurred on an hourly basis in heaven.
And then it was over. My seconds of pleasure had passed, and I was hanging precariously on a cliff tangled in the ropes and rigging of my former hang-glider, a long way from the earth below, millimetres from real death. Perhaps what I’d just seen was a portent of what was about to happen. Just then a tiny puff of wind brushed across my face, a wind that shook the ocean of my sleep and above me, my rigging snapped and there was nothing holding me to the cliff any longer.