Guo Du means transition in Chinese. Life’s a series of transitions, a stream of consciousness and illusions, rising and falling like waves. I write to capture them before they disappear.
After Gabriel fades out of sight, I let out a heavily muffled mental murmur: “So long you prissy feathery prig . . .” The juvenile remark, so unlike me, feels great.
So, this is my Day Number One of Eternal Life . . .
I can still smell the sanitised odour of the urine bag that hung from my deathbed, and feel the warmth of soiled diaper creeping inside the prickly hospital blanket. The squeaky weeping of Elena, and the droning prayers of our son Rev. Kelvin Lee (II) still ring in my ears. And I can’t stop the phantom pulses of the monitors I was plugged into, like a car being checked at the garage. I have no idea what these things were, but had long realised they were futile.
A waste of electricity, but they persisted. I had been lying there, technically in a coma but for my clear perception of things happening around me for months, years, perhaps longer. I couldn’t tell then; I only knew it had been a long time. The coma was taking me farther and farther away from the mundane world, but no nearer the Kingdom of God. Take me now God. Pray pull the plugs. I begged with all the mental energy left in me. But they wouldn’t. Alas, not on me. I had been a powerful voice against abortion and euthanasia before the car accident. They didn’t dare to cut the drips for as long as my body displayed the faintest sign of technical life, and against my will it did, on and on.
For years, I’d argued passionately that life’s something only God can give or take. But in my case, God neither took nor gave back. He kept me dangling in a poorly defined state for eight years four months sixteen days two hours and twenty minutes before sending Archangel Michael.
Finally. Heaven. Thank God!
I always knew I’d go to Heaven; come on, I’d been a good man: Dutiful husband, loving father, and devout Christian. Heaven’s made for dead people like me. Well, there had been a few minor transgressions, but in the interminable time that I idled comatose, I must have repented thousands of times for each of the five occasions I cheated on Elena. All of them happened while I was on church business in Hong Kong.
I don’t know what possessed me but I do concede I was no match for Satan’s cunning device. Look, with due respect, even God has trouble obliterating this supreme evil so . . .
Anyway, when I was driven past Wanchai in the church limo, I was attacked by an irrepressible erection, something I thought had long died. Honest to God, I didn’t even give so much as a glance at the tawdrily dressed girls outside the sleazy bars. But when we drove past, my penis would swell as if pumped with blood collected from the gutters of Hell. After the chauffeur dropped me off at the hotel, I dashed to a cold shower, and prayed. But the hellish tumescence crept right back. I struggled, fiercely, then succumbed, and sneaked out. That was the first time.
Similar relapses during my four subsequent trips were in a way more disturbing because of the shameful anticipation. The plane wouldn’t even be airborne yet. My cheeks would still be damp with Elena’s good-bye kisses, and I would start praying for advance forgiveness with my seatbelt on. My heart would race ahead of the flight, and my mouth would be dry for the entire journey, no matter how much water I drank. I was evidently overwhelmed by evil, and helpless. But God wouldn’t give me a guiding hand. He let me stand my own test; I did, and failed.
Well, all that was in the past. Though not totally forgotten, these trespasses had evidently been forgiven. Otherwise, I’d be somewhere much warmer right now wouldn’t I?
It happened abruptly. From one second to the next, my time was up. One of the machines tolled my knell: Ding . . . ding . . . ding . . .
Elena and Junior arrived. She sobbed, a bit too loud and ceremonious I thought. Junior prayed, thanking God on my behalf, also too loud. I joined him. I wasn’t positive that I’d really died. Everything felt the same: Cold. Perhaps a touch colder than usual, but that was all. The temperature difference between life and death turned out to be rather subtle at first.
Then a firm and even cooler hand gripped mine.
“Let’s go,” a voice said. I recognised him right away because of the iconic sword clamped under the armpit to free his hand for mine. In his other hand was a scale, the one he weighs souls with. He had a stern expression, almost fierce. I didn’t take it personal. The Archangel never smiles. That’s his reputation.
“I know who you are - The Archangel Michael!” I exclaimed, perhaps too excitedly. I was proud of myself for recognising.
“Let’s go,” he responded dryly.
“Can I have a few minutes more with my family? Just to wait till they’re gone?” I felt my voice choking. Michael looked at me with the same expression and repeated his favourite phrase: “Let’s go.”
I could tell he wasn’t going to change his mind. I tried to sound light-hearted instead: “I know I know, I’m not the only one dying today right?”
He ignored me, maintained his forceful grip, and pulled me towards Heaven.
I expected to be introduced to God at the Gate of Heaven soon. That’s one of Michael’s many angelic duties besides battling his indestructible foe Satan who’s also destined never to win. After my comatose experience, I can now see the pointlessness of the struggle with a touch of philosophy. No wonder Michael seems crabby. At the instant of that thought, he shot me a glance. I suddenly remembered I was now dead, and among angelic beings. Whatever I was thinking could probably be tuned into by God’s messengers.
Of course. What do I expect? To hide my thoughts from God?
I was embarrassed by my impertinence. Smarten up, I told myself. Get ready to meet God Himself momentarily. Should I shake His hands? Bow? Genuflect? Or prostrate? The Bible mentions nothing in this regard. I decided to prostrate, to be on the safe side.
If Michael was still listening, he didn’t volunteer any advice. I followed mutely, weaving from one patch of whiteness into another. So far, since leaving my deathbed, everything had been featureless. There was a constant wind hissing through his prominent pinions. The feathers were white with a beautiful golden sheen; perhaps a little tired though, a little limp . . .
He turned to regard me again.
Oh shoot! I abruptly took my thought off his personal appearance, and replaced it with a rapturous mental praise: Oh beautiful Archangel! Oh what a perfect being!
At the Gate of Heaven, Michael handed me over to Gabriel - here! - then turned to leave. Gabriel mumbled “Thanks” to his back. That was it. I couldn’t help feeling a little dejected.
Gabriel was more pleasant. I nearly mistook him for God.
“Welcome to Heaven Rev. Lee. I’m Gabriel, Archangel in charge, Chief Worthless Servant to Our Lord God the Almighty and Everlasting,” he recited in a flat and detached tone, sounding more like an English butler than Jewish angel.
“Please call me Kelvin, Archangel Gabriel. You have no idea how honoured I am to meet you.”
“Is that so?” he said, followed by an unnervingly long pause. I waited with my mouth open, uncertain whether to interrupt. “Marvellous,” he finally resumed. “You’ll be most welcome to see me whenever you wish, assuming you have a valid reason, of course, or whenever I need to see you, which I sincerely hope not. We like to leave the Sinners alone to enjoy their everlasting lives unless they get into trouble.”
“Against God’s Perfection, are we not but dismal transgressors Rev. Lee?” Gabriel chuckled. I wasn’t sure what the joke was but instinctually chuckled along and agreed enthusiastically: “Sinners. Yes. Of course. Transgressors. Ha, haha!” Sharing a joke with an Archangel. How ‘bout that?
The Gate of Heaven is a virtual gate. Similar to everything else, it has no distinguishable features. Two plum toddler angels sat on their haunches, staring straight ahead. Their trumpets laid on the cloud in front. Their cute little wings opened as if cut right out of a Christmas card. They didn’t pay any attention to us. One of them rolled his heavily lidded eyes towards Michael for a second when we just arrived, then resumed his listless goggle at the haziness ahead. They didn’t seem to notice Gabriel at all.
Gabriel noticed me staring, and said: “Infant Mortality.”
“There used to be lots around when my Lord God the Sparkling Wisdom enjoyed having a cloud of them singing and trumpeting above his head. Thank God He eventually got tired of them so we strictly enforced admission Divine Rules to curb these pests.”
“Don’t they play music anymore? Like, a welcome tune or something?”
Gabriel gave a disdainful look. “Not to you anyway, no offence.” He then glanced contemptuously at the baby angels and added: “If I were you, I’d keep away. Original Sins you know.”
“Thanks for the information Angel Gabriel,” I tried to sound grateful.
“ARCH . . . angel,” he corrected me, cocking his head disapprovingly, raising his frosty brows.
“Sorry Archangel Gabriel.”
I tried to shift my weight, as was my habit when feeling uneasy. But I had become weightless. There was no physical feedback from my weight transfer. I had noticed that empty feeling of being part of a vacuum soon as I died, but was not yet used to it.
Gabriel spent what seemed like an afternoon (The soft diffused light, moderately cool temperature and mildly humid air all stay constant, and there are no clocks. It’s hard to mark the passage of time in Heaven.) to give me a quick intro of my new home forever. But instead of the orientation I had expected, he mostly babbled about personal achievements while taking me for a guided aimless tour of the homogeneous place.
He bragged about breaking the news of pregnancy to Mary. Apparently, her initial response was hysterical: “No one will believe that for God’s sake!” she screamed. “They’ll stone me to death. Joseph will cast a boulder the size of a bread-box.”
Gabriel had to calm her with authority: “Hold thy tongue woman! Have faith! The Lord hath chosen thee to bear the Son as a Virgin. No one shall harm thee.” Then he added with a shrug: “You have no choice anyway.”
So, that was the Annunciation.
He admitted with the ostentatious nonchalance of a professional insider that he wasn’t sure how the event might have unfolded. But if Mary’s savage world decided to stone her to death, it would have been Michael, not him, who had to retrieve the embryo of the Son so he couldn’t care less. As it turned out, everyone just said “Wow!” Even Joseph didn’t ask any difficult question. Now, that was a miracle.
As the afternoon wore on, I was acclimatised to Gabriel’s discouraging countenance, and ventured a few questions. He gave me some indications which mostly confirmed what I had understood about Heaven. However, instead of gratification, I felt a strange sense of foreboding. Something seemed amiss in my clerical knowledge of the eternal rest home. Perhaps it was my lack of consideration to everyday details.
My first question was how I might acquire a pair of wings. Everyone I’d met so far was winged, I felt naked and deformed.
“In due course. Normally after you’ve had an audience with His Eternal Grace, provided there are yellow ones in stock.”
I couldn’t hide my shock and indignation. I was American, and thoroughly Christian. He was saying I had to carry (or grow?) yellow wings, presumably because of ethnicity? This is blatantly racist! I was about to protest when it suddenly dawned on me the Bible never promised anything like racial equality in God’s Kingdom. Even Jesus was reluctant to help the Canaanite woman because of her tribal background, right there in Matthew 15:21-28. I know my bible.
I sensibly let my grumble flash past, and covered its track with a loud mental Hallelujah! In only a few hours, I’d become much better in controlling the big mouth of my mind. I was quite pleased with myself in that regard.
“Would I look like a chicken?” I decided to demonstrate a sense of humour rather than complain. Acceptance is a virtue of all great men when they have no choice.
“Probably. But you shall have time to get used to it,” Gabriel agreed, his upper lip twitching between a faint smirk and disdain.
“When will I meet God?” I asked, straightforward, decided to leave the disturbing issue of chicken wings behind.
“In due course.”
I wondered exactly how long is one due course, but enquired instead how I might find my dead relatives. On the way up, the hypnotic sibilance of a steady wind going through Michael’s feathers had lulled me into a reverie. I had visualised an emotional reunion with my parents and uncle Joe, all exemplary Christians. They’d no doubt be up here somewhere.
“Feel free to look around,” Gabriel said. He explained Heaven’s not a fascist state. There’s almost absolute freedom of movement. Sinners can wander from one end of infinity to the other without being regularly monitored.
I tried not to let my frustrations show. After a brief pause, I changed the subject once more: “What about Jesus?”