by Paul W. Marino
I was 38 years old when I died. It would be swell if I could say I died saving somebody else’s life, like rescuing a drowning man, or shoving a child out from in front of a bus. But I didn’t. I killed myself. Not by accident, either. I took a .38 revolver and blew my brains out.
I just couldn’t take it any more. Ever since I was a teenager, I was given to depression. I saw head shrinkers, took drugs, went through years of occupational therapy......nothing worked. I’m not really sure how to explain it. How do you sum up twenty five years of pain and despair? At the end, that was all I felt. Oh, I tried getting help. As I say, I talked with doctors and psychiatrists, followed their advice, took the drugs they told me to take. I was hospitalized for a while. But it didn’t take. Nothing took, and eventually I resigned myself to just living that way.
Though not for long. On my thirty eighth birthday, I treated myself to a gun and a box of bullets, though even at that point, I wasn’t seriously thinking about doing it. It was more like I just wanted to be prepared; have my options open. Truth be told, I was more than a little scared to die. It’s not like you can dip your foot in the grave to see if you like the climate. Death is rather more permanent than that. But I was thinking about it.
It can be an attractive thought, you know. When you see someone lying in the casket, and people all talk about how good he looks, and how he’s at peace now. When you’re as messed up as I was, being at peace is pretty damn attractive.
I don’t know exactly why I went to talk to the priest. I think maybe I wanted permission. Life was definitely way too much for me to handle, and the thought of being at peace was looking better every second. So I went to a church, which is funny, because I’m not even Catholic. But who cares? Any old port in a storm, huh? Besides, from what I’d heard, priests are pretty much on duty 24/7.
So I went in a church and found a priest there. He was old. White hair, pallid skin, hunched back. Looked to be about a hundred years old. His eyes were watery, but sharp, and when he saw me he took me by the elbow and brought me to his office, gave me a cup of coffee and told me to pour my heart out to him. So I did. I told him what my life was like, how miserable I was all the time, and how I was thinking of killing myself.
“It’s a good thing you came to me, my boy,” he said, shaking his head. “Suicide is the last thing you should want to do. It will not get you peace, but damnation.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not sure I believe in that.”
“It doesn’t matter what you believe. What matters is what is! Hell is what awaits you if you give in to the sin of despair.”
“Did you think it was just a word, invented to frighten children? Sin is real, and the easy path is littered with it.”
“Haven’t you been listening to me? I haven’t had it easy since I was four years old!”
“Perhaps, but you have been blinded by sin ever since then. Look at what you plan to do! Suicide is murder—the murder of one’s self—and murder is a sin against God. It violates the sixth commandment: Thou shalt not kill. How can you plot to commit such a deed? Because for most of your life, you have been blinded by sin. The sin of despair.”
“How is despair a sin?”
“It is the failure—if not the refusal—to trust in God. From what you’ve told me it is plain that you do not trust in God, that you have never trusted in God. If you did, you wouldn’t be contemplating self murder. By giving in to sin, you are doing nothing less than telling God to go to hell; that you have no use for Him. But it is not God that will go to hell, young man. It is you!”
It was along about then that I realized this conversation wasn’t going anywhere. Sure, he offered to pray with me, but I’d been prayed over before and it hadn’t accomplished anything. If nothing else, I was getting the impression that God wasn’t such a swell guy after all. If you spent your life in torment and then sought out help and all you get is a sermon about it being your own damn fault and God isn’t going to give a rat’s backside about you, you’re probably better off without Him anyway. I think that’s what made up my mind more than anything else. If I was going to hell anyway, I might as well go and get it over with. Hell couldn’t possibly be as bad as anything else I’d lived through.
I went home and put my papers in order; wrote a will and all that. Wrote some letters to people I knew would be upset about it. Told them not to worry about it. Pray for me, if they wanted to. For all the good it would do. I mailed the letters, then went home and got out the gun. I loaded it and looked at it a while. It was going to be messy, so I wrote out another note apologizing to whoever would have to clean up the mess. It’s crazy, the things you think about at times like that.
Then I picked up the gun and looked it over again. I wasn’t really thinking of hellfire and damnation. I knew I wasn’t getting into Heaven, and didn’t really think that a selfish, vengeful God is the sort of person I’d want to spend eternity with anyway. No, hell was good enough for me, if that’s where I was going. I rather hoped not, but if it was, well......I’d deal with it. I put the gun to my head and closed my eyes.
The explosion of the gun was loud, like a cannon going off in my ear. The bullet ripping through my head was excruciating, especially when it burst out the other side, taking half my skull with it. But I was gone in jig time. Dead before the gun fell to the floor. And was it ever peaceful! I was floating out there in the dark, feeling better than I’d ever felt since I was a baby! I floated out there for a while, just savoring it, until I realized I was moving. If I was floating, it was on a current, drawing me toward the light. I didn’t know what the light was, but I didn’t really care either. I just let it draw me.
I saw everybody on the way: My parents, my grandparents, my sister that died as a baby, my old school chum Phil that was killed in a car crash when we were in High School; plus hordes more I’d forgotten all about. And all the while, the light got bigger and brighter, and closer. And before long, there I was, in line. Waiting to talk to God. And who’s ahead of me in line, but that old priest!
I wish I could say it was a happy reunion, but it wasn’t. He looked at me with disapproval, guessing (correctly) that I hadn’t taken his advice. He said he pitied me, that he’d pray for me, beg a saint or two to intercede for me, but he didn’t really hold out any hope. There is no Salvation after death, he said. My fate was sealed when I’d given in to sin. I tuned him out after that. If I was going to be damned, I didn’t need to have my nose rubbed in it.
And after a while, it was our turn. I don’t mean his, and then mine; I mean ours. We got pulled in together, right into the outer edges of the light. A voice called out to the priest by name, and he prostrated himself......sort of. We didn’t really have physical bodies and weren’t really on a floor of any kind. It just seemed that that’s what he was doing. And didn’t he jump up when the voice told him he wasn’t getting in!
“Lord!” He gibbered. “I answered Your call! I devoted my whole life to Your service!”
“That you did,” the voice answered. “But look behind you. I sent you this soul, lost in the gloom of despair. But you gave him no comfort. You threatened him with My vengeance. You quoted to him the letter of the law, but offered none of its meaning. If that is how you will serve Me, I have no need of your service. You are barred from My realm.”
Then the voice spoke to me, called me closer and told me to be of good cheer.
“Does this mean I’m not going to hell?” I asked.
“You are not. You were made in My image, and like many others, you have been misled as to what that means. The despair you have lived with is but a shadow of the despair that I have felt, but that likeness binds you to Me. Come, and be healed, and I will teach you other likenesses we share.” I sank further into the light, and heard the priest screaming as he was shut out.