She asks me, “How do I get to Heaven?” I look at her through the falls of smoke, breaking from my lips with each exhale. Her eyes large, so full of questions, searching mine for an answer. I take another puff and ponder, breathing in her words. I allow them to soak deep into the chasms of my mind.
“How do you get to Heaven...” I murmur beneath the trails of smoke. “You see those stars?” I say, pointing up at the sky.
She follows my gaze and nods her head, “Do we take a plane?” she asks excited.
“No,” I reply, gently shaking my head, “there’s no plane.”
She looks at me, confused, and asks again, “How do we get there?”
I light another cigarette and struggle with an answer. I myself, so full of questions. “Well,” I start, “what do you suppose Heaven looks like?”
Enthused, she goes off on a rant. They’ll be unicorns and angels singing, she says. They’ll be flying horses and candy that grows on trees! I grin at her bright eyes, re-counting the land, such a perfect place that we should all come to rest. “And it'll all be in castles on the clouds” she ends, and closes on a serious tone of, “...You’ll all be there, mom and dad too, and they’ll be no bedtime.”
I smile at the thought, questioning all that I’ve ever been taught. Wondering what exactly Heaven is… Contentment? A state of mind? Inner peace? Is it a place, or is it a thought that we all perceive differently?
“Well little one, it’s a long and winding road that will take you to Heaven.”
“So we drive?” she asks, peaking in curiosity.
“Kind of,” I say, “it’s a mixture of things that will take you to Heaven.”
“I don’t understand,” she retorts, looking glum, “how do we kind of drive to Heaven?”
“Just listen for a moment,” I say calmly, taking in the last puff of my cigarette. I butt it out and take her onto my lap. The air is cool tonight.
“Sometimes you’re gonna walk,” I say, “and there are other times when you may run, or skip, or jump!” I tickle her and she curls up like a wood bug in a ball and laughs. She glows beneath the moonlight. I look her in the eye and start slowly, “My baby girl... There are times on the way to Heaven that you will trip on your own two feet and crawl.” She looks at me confused, eyes glazed, absorbing my sorrow.
“Let’s back up a bit,” I say. “You know when we take a trip to visit Grammie?” She nods. “Mom packs you a suitcase, do you remember what she packs?”
“My toothbrush, my jammy’s, my teddy...”
“That’s right. Now to get to Heaven you’ve gotta pack a suitcase full of things.”
“What kind of things?” she questions.
“Well for starters you’ve gotta have Courage.”
“Like the lion in the Wizard of Oz?” She beams.
“Yes,” I reply, “just like the lion.”
“What other things do I have to pack?” She asks hesitantly, looking down at her feet.
“You’ve gotta be patient,” I say, “don’t rush things. You’ve gotta learn to forgive others and yourself - always. No one is perfect, just remember that, okay? We all make mistakes.”
She nods, as if waiting for a lecture to come on. I pick up on her tension and stop.
Relieved, she looks at me, still confused and asks, “I still don’t get it. How do I get Heaven?”
I hold her tight, and looking up at the stars, I whisper into her ear, “My child, the way to get to Heaven is to travel through life.”