When our daughter Lillian was about five years old, she started thinking about the natural end of all the things she knew. She started thinking about dying and death.
I don't know why she did, but she did, and it made her sad and worried. She didn't want to lose her mother and me and her grandparents to death, and she was frightened that she would.
Because she was a bright kid and a problem solver, she tried to think of a solution, some way around death, and the solution she thought out was her own personal vision of heaven.
Heaven, she figured, would be a place where she and her parents and all the people she loved would live in some perfect place, interacting with all her favorite characters from all her favorite books.
It sounded great, and I used to love to hear her talk about it. She and Linda and I would be in the same perfect place as the characters in Laura Ingalls Wilder and C. S. Lewis. We would have lunch in a park with Laura and Lucy and Edmund and Susie and Peter and Aslan, the compassionate, kind, loving God of this Heaven.
I loved to hear about Lillian's vision because her vision of heaven would have been more pleasant than mine.
My favorite books were Crime and Punishment, Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, Grapes of Wrath, Sound and the Fury, and Toni Morrison's Beloved. Gloomy books, every single one of them.
And I knew that my heaven wouldn't be the golden place Lillian's heaven was. My heaven would be a sad place, a heaven-noir where every day would be filled with rain and snow, misery and grief. In the dark gray shadows of that heaven, we would all huddle around in the cold talking the language of loss.
God would be a penniless peddler with an empty push cart.
Lillian is now 29 years old, and sometimes when I'm thinking too much about Dostoevsky and Morrison and Faulkner, I call her up and say, "Hey, Lillian, remember the time you imagined that heaven was a place where you and Laura and your mom and me would play tag?"
And Lillian says, "Yes, I sure do, I remember when Aslan would ...."
(The photo above is of Lillian and my dad and my mom's brother Uncle Walter.)