I’ll never forget the time I went to visit our dear Elder Anderson in the hospital after his heart attack.
I went into his room to find him, and his bed, gone!
I feared the worst, and walked back to the nurses’ station to inquire.
The nurse behind the counter frowned when I mentioned his name. “I’m afraid he’s taken a turn for the worse,” she said. “They’re working on him in ICU right now.”
I took a seat in the empty waiting area and began silently praying.
About an hour later an exhausted looking doctor came over, looked at me and asked, “Are you here for Gordon Anderson?”
“Yes,” I gulped, bracing myself for the worst.
“Gordon has had a brush with death,” he explained in his calm, professional manner. “We managed to revive him after several attempts, and he appears to be stabilized now. Would you like to see him?”
“Yes,” I replied, and numbly followed the doctor to the recovery room.
Elder Anderson was lying in bed, white as the sheets and every bit as unconscious. I waited till the doctor was done checking on everything and then pulled up a chair close to the bed.
I sat by Elder Anderson for several minutes in silent prayer before his eyes opened and he looked at me.
“Praise Jah!” I exclaimed. “How do you feel?”
“I was dead,” came his feeble, whispered reply.
“You should rest, now,” I told him, though I hadn’t a clue whether he should rest or jump up and do calisthenics.
“No,” he replied to my surprise, “I have to tell you about death while I still have time.”
“Okay,” I said, my curiosity piqued. Elder Anderson was one of the anointed, so anything he had to say about his after-death experience would be invaluable information.
“Where is my family?” he asked, wondering what he was talking to me for, of all people.
“They’re at the district convention,” I said.
He eyed me suspiciously, probably wondering why I wasn’t at the convention as well. He wasn’t aware that I had attended the previous week when I was out of town on our family’s vacation.
“Very well,” he said with a sigh, as if to say that he would have to make do with me for a listener.
“Fred Astaire,” he began, then took a long breath as if the effort to say the name had taken his all.
“Fred Astaire?” I echoed, doubting that I had heard correctly.
“Yes, yes,” he affirmed, impatiently. Then he began to sing:
I’m in heaven!
And my heart beats so
That I can hardly speak!
After this he shut his eyes and almost immediately began to snore. A nurse came in to check on his vitals, smiled an “everything’s okay” smile at me, then left us alone again.
“That’s what they were playing in the background.” I jumped at these words that Elder Anderson spoke. He was evidently fully awake again.
“I see,” I said, secretly doubting that they would be playing worldly music in heaven.
“They ease you into it,” he explained, seeing the doubt in my eyes. “That was a popular tune back in my day, you know.”
“Did you see anything?” I ventured to ask.
“Such things,” he said, and after a long pause he repeated in whispered wonderment, “such things.”
He lapsed back into silence and stared off into space. After several minutes I asked him if he could share any of the experience with me.
“Listen carefully then, because I need to tell someone. But promise me you’ll never speak these words to anyone else.”
I promised, and he began.
“The music was playing, and there was this hairless person floating in front of me in the nude.”
“No white robes?” I innocently asked.
“No, I guess we were wrong about the white robes,” he answered dejectedly.
“Probably just symbolic,” I offered.
“Yes, yes,” he agreed, and went on with his tale: “When I say hairless, I mean not only bald, but no eyebrows, and not even any eyelashes.”
“I suppose there’s no dust, or overhead Sun to block out,” I reasoned.
He gave me a look that said I should stop commenting and let him speak. I bit my tongue.
“This hairless person then spoke to me saying: ‘Praise God! I was Elder Nair. Praise God!’ That was an Elder who had asked me some of the 80 questions many years ago in preparation for my baptism.”
“I don’t know him,” I commented, having released my bite.
“Died before your time,” Elder Anderson explained. “But I didn’t recognize him. He was a fatty with glasses and ugly ties when I’d seen him last. Now he has a perfect body.”
“Like he’s been working out?” I asked.
“No; no abs or muscles, but no flab either. Just straight and solid like a smooth cylinder with a head on top. And no –uh– you know… no private parts.”
“None?” I asked in astonishment.
“None,” he affirmed. “And this worried me, so I reached down to check out mine, you know, and I was shocked to find nothing there: just smooth between the legs all the way around.”
“All the way around?” I asked, leaning forward in concerned interest.
“That’s right,” he said, “You don’t need to eat or drink in heaven, so there’s no need for any openings down there front or back.”
“Well, I guess you never have to hunt for a restroom, at least,” I said, trying to look on the bright side while hiding my disappointment at an eternity without sex (which, come to think of it, is not much different than my present life.)
“Later,” he continued, “when he took me around to meet the others I found the sisters were the same way. There was no way to tell the difference between brothers and sisters.”
“We’re all the same in God’s eyes,” I reminded him.
“Yes, but it was disconcerting,” he admitted. “Then I opened my mouth to speak to Elder Nair, but nothing came out; I was mute. So Elder Nair explained it to me, ‘Praise God!’ he said, ‘You must praise God as the first and last words out of your mouth. Mostly what we do here is praise God; there’s nothing else left to talk about. Praise God!’ So I said ‘Praise God! Tell me, do we get to see Jehov–‘ and then I felt a choking in my throat and huge painful boils began sprouting all over my body! Then Elder Nair said, ‘Praise God! We were wrong about the name: God hates that name and punishes anyone who tries to say it. But don’t worry, the boils will heal in seven days — though a day here is seven thousand Earth years, of course. Praise God!'”
I shuddered at the thought, but gave encouragement: “Well, at least we got that part right: a day being seven thousand years.”
“And then I saw sister Olson,” he continued, ignoring my upbuilding.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Sister Olson wasn’t of the anointed: you couldn’t have seen her.”
“I know she was of the Earthly class,” he acknowledged, “but there she was clear as day. I guess we were wrong about the whole Earthly class / Heavenly class distinction.”
“Amazing!” I cried. “Then you mean I’m going to heaven when I die rather than ‘live forever on a paradise Earth’™?”
“God knows,” he said with a sigh. “But that’s not all. I also saw my old next-door neighbor Carlos.”
“But he was worldly, wasn’t he?” I exclaimed.
“He sure was,” he said. “I well Remember how he used to decorate his house for Christmas, and he was always throwing big birthday parties in his backyard for his kids, and he worked three jobs to save up enough money to send them all to college.”
“Yeah, so what was he doing there?” I asked.
“This is passing strange,” I said. “Non Witnesses in heaven?”
“Yeah, I guess we were wrong about that too,” he said. “But that’s not the worst of it.”
“There’s more?” I asked, afraid of what he might relate next.
“I saw Ray Franz.”
“Yes. There he was, big as life, autographing that damn book of his.”
There was a long silence as we both tried to digest the full import of an apostate in heaven.
Finally I tried to break our sad mood with a bit of humor. “Well, at least there weren’t any people floating in the clouds strumming harps,” I chuckled.
He looked at me and frowned. He seemed to be considering whether to tell me more or not. “Actually there were,” he said, “but they were all in the Mainstream Christian section.”
I considered this latest shock for a moment, and finally asked him: “Are you telling me that everyone goes to heaven and it ends up being pretty much the heaven that their religion imagined for them?”
“Well,” he admitted, blushing and looking down at the bedsheets, “all I can say is that I intend to convert to Islam as soon as I get out of here.”