"It's about time!" John murmurs to himself while reading his paper on the way to work. He looks up upon arriving at the end of the block to see if the little LED white man was telling him it was safe to cross. John is a slightly cynical man and he knows it, but he thinks he has every right to be. In his eyes, the world is falling apart and there is nothing a guy like him could do about it. He validates his meaninglessness on the knowledge that the president of the United States has trouble getting anything done. Besides this, he is a generally happy person and the article of the paper titled Church Continues to Lose Followers gave him a little extra something to smile about that day. "Maybe people are starting to get the—"Thud. A hung-over bus driver floored the pedal through the red light. The result was an unstoppable force hitting a very moveable object.
"—Hint" he said when he woke up in the hospital.
"What was that?" questioned the nurse with a soft voice.
"Um…never mind" John answered. He wasn't even aware he said anything. He didn't even know why he was in the hospital. "Why am I here?"
"You were hit by a bus 5 days ago." For such a grim circumstance, the nurse seemed terribly happy. "The paramedics pronounced you clinically dead for over 24 hours, and by some miracle, and some great surgeons, we got your heart stated again and your brainwaves showed up soon after!" John winced at the word miracle. "You have quite the following," she said as she opened up a newspaper and showed it to him.
John looked over the front page that displayed a picture of himself and the bus drivers mug shot, but he was still a little too dizzy to read. John was still in a daze but he would have to be blind to miss the huge crucifix necklace the nurse was wearing. That explains the goofy smile she had yet to relax "Why do people care, I didn't think I was that important?" he asked.
"There are some people here that would to talk to you. I think they will explain it better than I can. May I let them in?"
John didn't feel like he had much of a choice. He really just wanted to sit in silence and try to let this all sink in, but he was curious. The nurse left the room and soon after two men dressed in black came in. Noticing the amice around one of their necks, he was already frustrated.
They sat down beside his bed and the priest was the first to speak. "Hello John, I am Father Michael and this is Rob, a very good friend of the church. We are here today to see if you could answer a few questions for us?"
"Uh sure, I'll try. I should let you know that I am not religious so I am not sure if I can help you." The two men exchanged uneasy glances.
Father Michael continued anyway. "We wanted to know if, while you were 'dead', you saw or experience something unusual."
"To be honest I don't remember anything. I don't even remember being hit."
Looking disappointed, Michael glanced over at Rob. Rob took the cue and spoke for the first time. "Well as you know the church has been in trouble lately. We have been losing followers and are having trouble getting them back. We would see to it that you are… comfortable for the rest of your life if you are willing to help us out."
John did not like Rob. His voice was dark and unfriendly. "So you want me to tell everyone that I went to heaven I'm guessing" John was slightly annoyed and he let it show.
"I can see you're not a fan of the church, but think of all the money you can make, writing books and making appearances to talk about it. It could be a life changing experience."
John considered it for a minute. He hated his job and he hardly ever leaves his house otherwise. He was bored with his life. "What is it exactly that you want me to do?"
"Read this" Rob threw a script at John "in front of a few cameras next week. We have everything else taken care of." Michael looked unhappy; he obviously thought this would go differently.
John wondered how often chances like this come around. The two men said their goodbyes and left John to think about it. He looked over the script and he could have sworn a fourth grader wrote the dialog. He rewrote as much of it as he could to make it sound reasonable, but he still had not made a decision.
Just as he read the script over for the second time and had most of it memorized, he turned on the TV. One of the commercials was for the local news station. He never understood why reporters had to stand outside in the cold to give these little tid-bits of news stories, especially when they had nothing to do with the weather. He was about to change the channel when he heard what the headline story was. "And tomorrow morning we will hear what a man said he saw when he was pronounced dead for over 24 hours."
"Those sons-of-bitches" he thought aloud. He also thought they had good reason to think he would agree to their plan, so he was not too upset. This is the conclusion he came to: since he doesn't believe in God, nothing in life really matters. Doing something immoral was still something John didn't like about this predicament, but he also thought no one would believe him anyway. People are so stubborn with their beliefs. He knew this would not get him as rich as the "friend of the church" said it would but he was not really looking forward to that anyway. He just wanted a transition out of his current life and this was perfect. "I'll do it" he said and hung up the phone.
When the day came, John sat down for the interview a few minutes before the cameras were ready. He could not believe the situation in which he landed. He could be changing people's lives, probably for better and worse in the next few minutes. He had been thinking about how morally wrong it is to lie about something like this, but he was able to convince himself that he didn't care, until now. It felt real now. He closed his eyes and considered backing out at the last minute. Then it hit him like divine inspiration. John had a new plan.
The interviewer began, "I have with me here the man who survived death. He was hit by a bus earlier in the week downtown and is now able to walk away from it." Turning to John, he said "well the world is in the edge of its seat, they want to know, what did you see?"
"Honestly I don't even remember hitting the bus, I just remember seeing black, then a growing light" he cleared his throat and continued. "I was soon overtaken by the light and then a small dark silhouette appeared. I couldn't tell if the figure was small or just far away because I had no reference point, and when it spoke, the sound came from everywhere."
"And this was heaven?" the interviewer asked.
"That was my next question. He told me it was, but not to enjoy it too much because I was to be leaving soon. Obviously this scared the heck out of me because I thought maybe he meant to send me, well, down."
"But he just meant that you would be sent back to earth?"
"Yeah, I was getting to that but I guess I can skip that part now."
"My apologies, I will try to interrupt less I am just very intrigued."
"Not a problem. Anyway, he said not to worry about where I was headed, and that I should be asking better questions, I was in heaven after all. So I asked if he was God. He said he was. I asked him how he could know that for sure and after a long pause, he said he did not.
" I asked, 'well did you create everything?' 'I have created many things, but so has your people' he said. This confused me so I asked if that made me a God too. He responded, rather cleverly I might add 'No, your name is John.'"
"He was implying that God was just a name?" asked the newsperson.
"That's what I think, but I could tell already that he was going to give me very vague answers for the rest of this conversation, and I was right for the most part. I asked him why I was here to which he responded 'to talk to me.' 'That's not what I meant' I said 'I mean how did I get into heaven? In your book you say that you have to believe in God to get into heaven and if you know everything you should know that I didn't even think you existed'.
"So I take it you have changed your mind about this" joked the interviewer.
"Well, only slightly, but I will get to that later. He told me that no "holy" book was directly influenced by him as of then, but he did agree with some parts of them. He also said that most of the rules you "need" to follow to get into heaven were laughable. He said, 'the parts I don't agree with were written for the pragmatic reasons of the authors, and I had no control over this. You do not have to follow any book to get into heaven.' I asked him if everyone got in and he said, "I did not create you to be followers. I created you to be rational, and the chaos of your world is a result of following. But the answer to your question is no.'
"So then I asked him the question that everyone in the world wants to ask him. Obviously, I was not expecting an answer because giving away the meaning of life could devastate so many people. But his answer was pretty straight forward and here it is, word for word. The meaning of life is 'to make choices'. Pushing my luck I asked him to clarify. He said 'the more you know, the more choices you can make.'
I asked 'So we should keep advancing science and technology?'
"He chuckled and said 'that is one choice.' I asked if he laughed because there was a better option and he said, 'I don't know what better means in this situation.'
"I then realized a paradox of something he said earlier so I moved on and asked, 'So, to get into heaven, we have to be rational right? I am not alone when I say that it is irrational to believe you exist. You didn't really leave very clear signs of your existence. The only thing we have to go by is hear-say and that isn't enough for people like me.'
"He responded 'That's fine, I did that on purpose. There is no rational reason to believe that your planet has a creator.'
"'So if there was no rational reason to think he exists, and believing he does is irrational, than people who believe in religion cannot get into heaven?'
"'Some people are more doubtful than the let on.'
"'So god exists, but if we think he exists we can't get into heaven. This seems a little crazy.'
"'When it is simplified it does sound crazy, but it is much more complex than that. Unfortunately our conversation is ending and I cannot answer any more questions. You're a smart guy, I'm sure you can figure it out' He laughed, disappeared, and I woke up."