You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone. For years stacked on years, I’ve said that to my immediate-vicinity family members. Always voiced with a slight grin, it has been my usually utterly futile attempt to get them to stop and smell the rose of me, so to speak. To pause in the course of our everyday ordinary lives together and give thanks, again, for me-and-my-services, like taking out the greasy coffee grounded snotty tissue trash, and slacking the gas-thirst in their eternally panting cars, and of course being the last of these—you know, the one who turns off all the lights while locking all the doors before whispering to our home, Goodnight, sweet hearth.
But I’ve stopped with that phrase; enough is enough. Oh, rest assured I continue to perform all those services—most often gladly I might add—and even some new ones. But I no longer say, You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone. Because the truth is, I don’t ever want to be gone. Not ever.
I grew tall in the seventies and eighties in East Texas, a geography which, in a very real way, was about the third notch of the Bible Belt—nice and snug. Evangelical Christianity was the soup in which I stewed, what with my father being a Southern Baptist preacher and all. The days back then held a heavy emphasis on heaven, that golden-streeted jasper-walled revelatory bliss city that awaited you after your earthly death if in your earthly life you had placed all your eggs of belief in God’s basket. I didn’t know any adults who didn’t want to go to heaven when they died, and all those adults wanted everyone else around them, including me, to go to heaven when we died. And I did want to go, as it sounded so clean and fresh. Plus that’s where Jesus-who-loves-me-for-the-Bible-told-me-so lives. Yet I wasn’t in any hurry. Some of the adults around me, however, just couldn’t seem to wait. They were like, itchin’.
Now being the preacher’s son, I often overheard info I probably shouldn’t have been privy to but I overhead it nonetheless because I’m a born overhearer, so I knew at least some of those itchin’ had crappy marriages or crappier divorces or money woes or neverending health problems. So itchin’ to leave this place and go to that next place where it’d all be wiped away and there would be no more crap or woes or body aches—well, sure, that made sense. Heaven would scratch earth’s itch. Still, I thought them anxious, and I had already at a young age hidden some of the evangelical all-star verses in my heart, one of them being Be anxious for nothing, which at that young age I assumed covered everything including heaven.
If I could point to an image that captured the “me” of those days (and probably still does to this very day), it would be the Maxell’s “Blown Away Guy.” In the late seventies, Maxell hired the ad agency of Scali, McCabe, Sloves to create something to appeal to a new kind of consumer. And like a Draperian scene from an episode of Mad Men, they came up with an ad that was iconic love at-first-sight: Long-haired leather-clad shade-wearing cool guy sitting in a Le Corbusier chair as both himself and his martini are blown away by the sound quality of a Maxell cassette tape via JBL speakers. Absolute genius. The ad has been recreated in episodes of The Family Guy and The Simpsons, and a scene from the movie Heathers (ahem).
I say that image captures the me of then and now because I’ve consistently been blown away by the quality of life here on earth. It hasn’t always been a rose garden, but it’s far from a shithole. Heaven’s going to have to do some pretty hard scratching to top what I’ve experienced so far. Yes, there have been a handful of quite privileged verging-on-the-verge-of-cosmopolitan experiences, like standing in the rafters of the Siena Cathedral in Italy as dusk fell and the night air smelled of cigarettes and chocolate. And suddenly turning around in our seats at the Lumineers concert as two rows away a stage emerged from the ground on which—you guessed it—The Lumineers stood and sang a few tunes to the entire crowd but I’m convinced especially to my daughter and me. Then there was waking up four mornings in a row next to the woman I love as outside our window the smell of breakfast at Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn charmed us from our slumber.
However, the truth is those have been exceptions to the rule, the rule being most of what I’ve been blown away by has been the mundane regular old stuff of earth like hitting (mainly chasing) tennis balls in the street with my brother when we were boys, and cutting the umbilical cord on all three of my children in order to unleash them into the world, and getting up at 2 a.m. to let our beloved Beagle trot out to pee, and waiting and waiting at the airport until finally seeing the faces of people I love drawing close once more, and listening to Christmas music every year on that AM station out of Denver, and mowing summer grass, and scrubbing sweet potatoes, and the smell of lilacs in June, and texting bitchy but honest messages to friends who “get” me, and taking out the always overflowing trash, and putting gas in thirsty cars that pant as deer for water.
I still put all my eggs in God’s basket. And I still believe in heaven, that next place we’ll go after we die. I buck against all notions of simply becoming food for the worms or going gently into some soupy circle-of-life night. Grief, what a letdown if after all this that’s what’s next. I agree with Mary Oliver—All this, as prelude. But now in my fifties, just like in the seventies and eighties, I’m not itchin’ to get to heaven, the reason being because I’m gonna miss all this when I’m gone, like all of it. Every damn stitch. My secret hope (I suppose a secret now no more) is that we’ll all be surprised how much heaven looks and feels and tastes and smells like this swiftly tilting planet we currently call home. I’ve no doubt it’ll be different, sure, cleaner and fresher, but I believe it will be so achingly familiar that we’ll all stumble around at first mumbling “I think I’ve been here before.” So no, maybe not surprised. What I meant to say was blown away.
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