He died. He died in a clean white bed in a clean white room. There were no tears, no last gasps for breath, no alarms, no dying confessions; he simply stopped breathing sometime in the middle of the night. In the morning a nurse in a clean white uniform checked for a pulse, made a note on a chart at the foot of his bed, then made a phone call to some men in black and gray uniforms. The men came and carefully packed the body away in a gray vinyl bag. A few days later his body was sealed in a vault at the Sunny Vale Mausoleum. There was no ceremony, there were no mourners, there was only a cold body in a stone vault. It could have been sad and lonely.
But it wasn't. It was simply quiet and uneventful. He had out lived all of his friends and family so there just wasn't anyone left to mourn. It was like he was the last person to walk across the tarmac to a waiting airliner, there was no fanfare, no waves goodbye, he was simply the last to board the plane. And he made that crossing simply and quietly, without fuss or bother. That was the way he had lived his life, simply and quietly, without fuss or bother. If his life was a river, he swam to the middle, to the strongest current, and followed it to it's end at the ocean.
He didn't have any strong religious beliefs. If pressed, he would probably admit to being an atheist. So he was quite surprised to find himself in long line of thousands of people heading towards a large set of pearly gates. It seemed like daytime, but the sky above was dark as if it were night, and the great blue/green ball of the earth spun peacefully overhead. As the line moved closer to the gates, the people in it started to change, to transform. He watched as bellies distended with hunger shrank and their owners grew firm and full. He saw missing limbs re-appear. He saw bodies torn apart by guns and bombs and shrapnel begin to knit themselves back together. Lines of worry and fear disappeared from faces, and were replaced with smiles and gentle laughter. There were occasional checkpoints where official looking clerks asked questions. Some of the clerks asked for your name, or the name of a loved one. Others asked where you were born. But others asked odd questions like what was your favorite color, or favorite food, or where you might have been on a particularly uninteresting day.
Once through the pearly gate the line, the mass of people, headed down a hill to a large field bright with wild flowers. A soft warm breeze carried the scent of cinnamon and jasmine and promised a long peaceful sleep. He hesitated. He saw a second smaller line forming far to his right. A line of supplicants waiting to ask a question of an old man sitting in a rocking chair. He discovered from one of the clerks that the line was for those who wished to ask god a question. Each supplicant was allowed to ask one question and god would answer truthfully and to the best of his abilities. With one last glance down the hill to the springtime field, he turned and joined the line of supplicants.
This line moved slowly in fits and starts. Each supplicants question was heard clearly and loudly by the others, but the answers were whispered into the questioners ears and only the questioner knew what was said. Many questions were about specific events in the questioners lives. Stuff like, why did you let my mother die when I was only 12? Or why did scruffy, my childhood dog, have to be hit by that car? Where did my first lover go after we broke up? But the most frequent question was obvious: “What is the meaning of life?” It was strange because sometimes god seemed able to answer the question with only a word or two. Other times he took many long hours to give the supplicant their answer.
When he finally reached the front of the line he looked over to the mass of people walking down the hill to the golden springtime fields, then he looked over his shoulder to a spinning globe of the earth. He pointed to the earth and he asked...
“Can I go again?”