I died. It was no accident. I rented a nice hotel room. Then I swallowed a lot of pills that would dissolve my liver and brain. I cut my arms open, and took enough aspirin that nothing but my failing heart could stop the bleeding. And so I died.
Then I met God. He was everything they show in the movies. A giant of a man, long in years, with a flowing white mane and long gray beard. As for his face, no matter how I tried to look at it, I could never quite see it. And he asked, “Why have you done this terrible thing?”
“Life was just too hard. I couldn’t take it anymore,” I said.
And so I began to experience the grief of those I had left behind. First was my mother. I felt twenty-six years of her loving her son, and worrying about me. I felt the horror when she learned of my death. I felt thirty more years of longing, and guilt, and anguish over the loss. I threw up. But it wasn’t over yet.
Next was my father. First I felt his joy of knowing he had created new life. Then I experienced his fall into alcoholism, and the hatred he felt for himself for neglecting his family. I felt his pride for me, and his great expectations. Then came the shame and grief that I had ended my life with so many things left unspoken.
Then there was my sister, who always secretly hoped I would go away somehow. She was revolted for ever thinking this, and missed me more than I could ever have predicted.
But there were others. I saw the children I had failed to bring into the world. Bright eyed and full of a love for their father that I never knew could exist. And I knew it never would exist, for my death was their death as well. The trial went on.
I saw the son I never knew, hidden from me by a wicked woman. He would grow up with a hole in his heart, longing for a father, hating his mother’s boyfriends, and forever embattled against the world.
Then I was shown the lesser losses. A kind word at the DMV. A door held open for an elderly woman. A birthday card for a coworker. All the millions of ways I might have added value to the world, but never would.
I was now laying in a pool of snot and tears at the feet of the Father. He touched my shoulder and gave me the strength to stand. “Despite my attempts to instruct you with the Bible,” he said, “you have carried a belief that should have died out with the pharaohs. In the desert, you will find what is coming to you.”
“What is at the end of the desert?” I asked.
The Lord nodded with the faintest of smiles, and dissipated like smoke on the wind.
Now sand curled around my feet, and as I looked out I saw the endless desert, the white sands illuminated preternaturally under the black and starry night sky. I found that I was dressed in my uniform from the Navy, all black with a white cover. I threw the hat away, knowing it would be too much to bear in the oppressive heat of the sands. I took one step. Then another. Then I fell to my knees in despair. How could I ever cross the expanse when God himself had turned his back on me?