Many years ago, at the gateway to heaven, there was a unique inquiry made by a man who had only just arrived there. He had lived a good life, and was therefore pleased to find himself affront the pearly gates, ready to ascend into the light and love of the afterlife. Yet there was a thought he was unable to rid himself of.
The gatekeeper, being of course quite observant, noticed his trepidation, asking, “What’s the issue? You seem troubled. Unfinished business?”
“No,” the newly deceased replied. “Everything’s tied up just fine down there. It’s just that I find myself wondering what hell is like. I never really believed in heaven or hell while I was alive, so I find it somewhat troubling that these places actually exist. While I am exceptionally grateful to be here, the thought of anyone suffering at all – let alone for eternity – makes my stomach twist. Is God really so vengeful?”
“You may be surprised.” The Gatekeeper smiled. “As with all great truths, it’s not as simple as you may suppose, yet also, far simpler. Let me show you.”
With the wave of his arm, they found themselves at the gateway to hell. To the deceased’s surprise, it was nearly identical to the entrance to heaven. He could suddenly smell an array of delicious foods and hear the din of cutlery. The gatekeeper led him through, the doors opening on to a scene of opulent beauty.
It was an enormous banquet hall, so wide and so long that there were no walls to be seen, only immense pillars with intricate carvings, descending into the distance and climbing to an unseen ceiling covered by celestial clouds. Chandeliers hung over all of the ancient tables, casting a warm glow on the diners, who were far too numerous to count. The most beautiful, ethereal music wafted in from all corners and the smell of the food was so mouth-watering he could nearly taste it.
“This is Hell?” the man asked, mouth agape.
“Yes, quite,” the gatekeeper replied, pausing for a moment and nodding to himself. “It’s not what it seems. Take a closer look.”
The man did so, examining the tables with a little more scrutiny. Suddenly he noticed something disturbing – the cutlery was not separate from the guests, but actually extensions of them. Each diner had either a fork, spoon, or knife extending gaudily from their arms, the utensils so long it was impossible for them to get the food into their mouths.
With dawning horror he began to realize the scope of the situation – they were starving, in agony, surrounded by a feast of kings and unable to get any of it into their mouths, only growing hungrier by the day, yet continuing to toil helplessly. He could hear their moans and cries now, feel the desperation and hopelessness of the situation as it continued on into infinity. He shivered. “Ugh. I’ve seen enough, please take me away from here.”
In a blink, they were back at the gates of heaven.
“Okay,” he said, “I’m ready, can we please go in?”
He followed the gatekeeper across the threshold and into heaven. To his astonishment, it was the exact same scene. The giant banquet hall, the music, the food, and – worst of all – the cutlery as appendages. He looked down. His lower arms had become a grotesquely long fork and knife, each incapable of reaching his mouth. He was filled with disgust, and was about to cry out when suddenly he felt the Gatekeeper’s hand on his shoulder, gently squeezing. “Look closer…” came the whisper.
Looking up, he suddenly noticed that the mood of the diners was in complete contrast to those in hell. There was a nearly palpable atmosphere of love, sharing, camaraderie and delight that permeated the entire hall. Noticing this, he could suddenly feel it beginning to well up in himself as well. Tears filled in his eyes. Everyone, everywhere, was dining merrily, their faces bright and rosy, creased with laughter and warm with joy. Their bellies were plump and their eyes shone with life. They were partaking in every aspect of the feast.
How? They were feeding each other.
Image: Spencer Krigbaum