Steve Barnes' World of Happiness

The ideal moment.

Among Earth’s old myths is Heaven, a form of afterlife.  The myth survived to be invoked by adult speakers around a young me, sometimes with apparent sincerity. The finer details seemed to vary depending on the adult relaying them, but I came to consider it, approximately, “a place where you could do whatever you want forever.” Perhaps Heaven would be a physics-fluid cloudscape to a person that always dreamed of flying without a plane, a soothing sauna to the unwitting labourer, or a lush meadow to a grazing animal.

One day, I’d memorize “Weird Al” Yankovic’s frantic stream of consciousness Everything You Know Is Wrong, with its brief confrontation with Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates over failing to conform to the dress code:

Well, he lets me into heaven anyway
But I get the room
Next to the noisy ice machine
For all eternity

By then, I had also imagined my own configurable “Heaven” as something like an apartment. It was simple and uncluttered. In fact, I imagined only one concrete object: something to program. I’d used my family’s Amiga growing up, but HyperCard on the Macintosh had earned its place as my platform of choice through its accessibility and seeming limitlessness to a person of my age.

After some grades, it had dawned sadly on me: “school takes up your whole life,” by which I meant one’s whole childhood. There was a yearly summer, but even the season’s name belied its impermanence, and when all the summers were done, you had grown up. When was one supposed to avail oneself of one’s childhood with a long, dedicated focus on something so vast as programming?

One year, I was fortunate to borrow one of our classroom’s computers and keep it in my room for the summer. I designed a point-and-click game called “Mansion Escape.” Out my window was our yard, then the field of the neighbouring property, then the further rural distance. The sun would set on the other side of the house, but the visible twilight would as plainly pronounce the transition out of day. That moment – the begining of the evening, when the world was quiet to you, and and time lay waiting – felt closer to my imagined Heaven than anything.

I was still waiting to learn the evidence for Heaven, and only years later would adult claimants disillusion me through failure to produce any. Since I always considered “what happens when we die” a great unanswered question, I was not disappointed (except perhaps in those adults).

Admired figures have repeated thoughts like “uncertainty of an afterlife makes life all the more precious,” which sounded upstanding, though I had never found myself thinking it. Does a post-life void really enhance the present? How could the quality of today be affected by future unknowns?

But if, through some lapse in logic or misplaced trust, I had ever been certain my imagined Heaven was real as France, I might have felt comfortable deferring pursuit of such evenings indefinitely, even after I had grown up. If I want to be certain I’ll ever have them, I thought, I then I have to seek them. That realization might have changed my actions, and my actions might have changed my life. There it was: an indirect, but appreciable effect of not knowing.

I could say this story was about finding “Heaven on Earth.” But if an evening on Earth could be Heaven, then I would no longer be using “Heaven” as I was earlier; I’d have committed verbal sleight-of-hand. The truth is the opposite: a quiet evening to create – or your own imagined version of Heaven rendered here, today or tomorrow – is no element of the afterlife, but of life.