The First to Die, the Last to Understand
One day, God decided to add a twist to his Divine Plan. Instead of simply entering heaven or hell at the end of their earthly sojourn, each of his human children would be given a single imposing volume that contained the detailed story of his or her life, and be required to read it from cover to cover. The material would be torture for some, thus preparing them for the hell that lay ahead. For others it would be filled with pleasant surprises of forgotten accomplishments and good deeds, all of which would be celebrated during their eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. Many readers would be bored stiff � an idea that brought a smile to God�s face. For those who could not read, angels would be on hand to read to them. As always, those incapable of understanding the concept of heaven and hell would be given balloons and an eternal ride on the Celestial Railroad. A truly grand affair, the Celestial Railroad had been known affectionately for eons as the Soul Train � a name God abolished after he read �The Celestial Railroad,� a story by that illustrious foe of Puritanism and perpetrator of many commas, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
When everything was ready, God put his new program into effect. This didn�t take as long as it would have in his Old Testament days, when impending changes were first whispered to bearded unwashed prophets, who in turn relayed the information in apocalyptic terms to anyone unfortunate enough to be hypnotized by their demented stare. Though dramatic and entertaining, the method was outdated and inefficient. Centuries passed with little or no progress. Similarly, the messiah approach had been a one-time thing, with the added complication that virgins were almost impossible to find. Apostles? They�d never make it through airport security.
Without a doubt, the situation called for a more modern approach. And so, taking his cue from earthly governments, God made the change without telling anyone.
As luck would have it, the first person to die and to be presented with the book of his life was the president of the United States of America. Initially, God was at a loss. He knew the president had a hard time reading. But bringing in an angel was out of the question. The image of an angel reading to a known liar and murderer, while comical to a certain degree, was not something he wanted to be identified with.
What to do. A video of the president�s life was a tempting possibility. Another idea was to recall the president�s mother and father from hell and have them take turns reading to their son. This seemed fitting, since they had been responsible for his upbringing and had committed the same crimes themselves. An even more tempting possibility was to have the men, women, and children who had died in the president�s war show him their mortal wounds through all eternity. While it deviated slightly from the book idea, it would still be a highly effective way for the president to understand his earthly legacy.
The president, meanwhile, waited. He glanced at the cover of the book he�d been given, but not once did it occur to him to open it. Instead, he sat dumbly in the dawn of his afterlife, fully expecting a member of his staff to arrive and tell him he wasn�t really dead. When this didn�t happen, he furrowed his brow and tried to think. He knew from experience that thinking wasn�t possible unless he furrowed his brow. And while he couldn�t think when he furrowed his brow either, he felt certain that furrowing his brow made him look like he was thinking � always a comfort in trying times.
As had happened countless times before, God watched the president and was amazed. Since the president had died, 37,214 other people had also met their end, and were now occupied with reading their life stories. If not for the president, God would have been able to proclaim his new project a big success.
Finally, God had an idea. �I know what I�ll do,� he said. �I will tell the president myself that he is going to hell. That ought to get the message across.�
The president was looking at his fingernails when God appeared before him. To break the ice, God said, �I noticed you haven�t been reading your book.�
Gazing up at God�s shining countenance, the president smirked and said, �No sense startin� somethin� I ain�t gonna be around t�finish.�
�Oh?� God said. �And just where is it that you think you are going?�
�Back t�the White House,� the president said. �Soon as this mess blows over.�
Hearing this, God could not help but smile. Not surprisingly, the president�s reply had given him another idea.
�Very well, then,� God said. �You can just sit there while I make the arrangements.�
�That�s more like it,� the president said, gripping his book.
As God had appeared, so did he depart. He never returned.
The president furrowed his brow. Little by little, he began to understand what had happened. Long after he had been forgotten in the world, he opened his book and started to read. He is reading still � through tears, through horror, through pain.
September 19, 2005
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