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Ladders

19 Dec

the ladder upSome years ago, when riding home in the family car from her grandmother’s house, my little girl sat up front, making the most of time alone with me her Mom, as that noisy baby slept in the back. She looked at the sky.  “If I could make a big enough ladder,” she said pensively, “I could climb there.”

Time keeps slipping for me this week. I think of the cold night earlier this month when I found myself in a florist’s greenhouse. It was near suppertime, but the shoppers there seemed reluctant to depart this damp Eden with its glass walls and ceilings all misted over with moisture.

Then time slips again to a long-ago night: Our then six-year-old had gone to bed. Downstairs, his father was playing his weekly bridge game with his pals. Elsewhere in the house, our other kids attended to the night’s homework. Then here came suddenly a sound of weeping, faint at first, but building in despair as it built in duration.

Our six-year-old appeared suddenly at my bedroom door. It was he who wept so. What was it?, I asked rushing toward him. A bad dream? He shook his head no. A pain? No again.

He sat on the edge of our bed and, after a long time, did his best to convey it: “I was thinking about death,” he finally whispered. “How when you die  you just have to lie there. Forever.”

“Ah but most people don’t believe that. None of us has been there of course, but most people picture Heaven.”

“I don’t want to go to Heaven!” he burst out. What would I do there? What do people do when they’re  there?”

I remembered an image that had comforted me once. “Well, they say it’s like a big party and everyone you ever loved is right there in the room with you –  and your old pets, and the toys you lost and thought you’d never see again…”

“But even a party can go on too long.” He shook his head sadly. “And what if there is no Heaven and you just…..end?”

“I don’t think it’s like that,” I said, hugging him now and swallowing back my own tears. “Why don’t you stretch out here a while?”

And so he did, as I busied myself nearby. Thirty minutes later, he was still curled in a tense ball.  I went over and lay down beside him; buried my face in his little-boy neck. “Listen!” I said at last. “Can you hear all those sounds? Daddy downstairs with his pals? Two kinds of music? Your brothers and sisters all talking and moving around?”

He nodded his head without opening his eyes.” Always you will have that: other people all around you. No one is alone, you know.”

“I know,” he whispered, and gave a final shuddering sigh.

He had looked over the edge into that terror. Most people look there exactly once, then get to work building a structure against it, whether you call it belief in the hereafter or faith in one’s fellow men or That Which Does Not Die.

I can’t say if  that youngest child of mine began building his then and there. I can tell you that as far as I know he never wept like that again.

In that wintry greenhouse, I watched the clerk wrapping a plant against the cold with all the care of one easing a baby into a snowsuit. So. I told myself, there is this care, then.

There are the long bars of sunlight, winter or summer.

There are the voices of others as you slip into sleep.

And then there’s that ladder, which, built of strong enough stuff and fastened with Belief, may let us climb it upward after all.

 

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7 responses to “Ladders

  1. Frank

    December 19, 2012 at 9:33 am

    I am at peace knowing, and sharing, that one of us has indeed been to heaven and has revealed in very explicit terms what it is we are destined to obtain, if we so choose. It is our choice, no one else’s. He came from heaven, returned there, and promises to prepare a place for us.

    In a word, heaven is Love. Unadulterated, perfect, the best of all the wonderful experiences we have had of Love in this life multiplied by infinity. To quote a young witness who may have also had a glimpse, “Heaven is for real, and you’re going to love it”.- Colton Burpo

    Be not afraid.

    “To tell the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.- Jesus, the Christ.

     
  2. nicole

    December 19, 2012 at 9:51 am

    beautiful. and i had the same conversation with my mom when i was little, many times. there are so many things we just can’t understand. xoxo

     
  3. Chris

    December 19, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Thank you Terry.

     
  4. tobymarotta

    December 20, 2012 at 12:02 am

    we love you

     
  5. Jan

    December 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Terry, this is one of the most moving things I have ever read. I’ve copied it so that I can revisit your words on the greatest of human problems. How can we explain to our children what we truly do not understand ourselves? We can only believe and hope, and pass it on. Thank you for writing this, Jan

     
  6. Terry Marotta

    December 21, 2012 at 8:38 am

    To reply to all here I can only say thanks for these thoughts and to remark again on what a privilege it has been to get to write for a living …

     
  7. Gwen Straub

    December 22, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    “Can you hear your brothers and sisters all talking and moving around?” you asked Michael. But Michael doesn’t have any brothers, does he?
    Then he asked you, “What if there is no heaven and we just…..end?” It’s comforting to believe there is something after death. But there is something comforting about non-existence too!
    So we better spread as much love as we can while we’re here, just in case the latter is true!
    Love you, Ter.

     

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