In these circumstances, my son and I recently had a conversation about heaven as we ambled up a wooded gorge surrounded by a surfeit of blooms - blue camas, shooting stars, arnica, the fresh beginnings of lupine, the tattered remnants of glacier lilies dotting the earth. All these spring ephemerals, as they are called - shooting up overnight and disappearing within a week or two - certainly emphasize the transitory nature of things here on earth. And yet precisely in these environs, we humans are struck by the glory of it all. The temporary is caught up in a light that suggests something more, something, dare we say it, perfect. We think at such moments: "Nothing to be added, just this."
But fun is perhaps precisely what heaven does not involve. Christian theologians speak of heaven as a basking in the presence of the Most High, the summum bonum, the highest good, of all creation. But need that involve a perpetually extended, really great day at one's local watering hole with a carefully chosen repertoire of family and friends? Indeed, would the summum bonum even allow one merely to bask in it, as if one were sun-bathing in the Good?
I think we decided, my son and I, that we are better off in our skeptical times with at least the thought of heaven, as long as we remember not to take liberties with it, to render its meaning facile by selling it and ourselves short. Perhaps Dylan Thomas had something like that in mind when he wrote:
Dark is a way, and light is a place,
Heaven that never was
Nor will be ever is always true,
And, in that brambled void,
As plenty as the blackberries in the wood
The dead sing for His joy.
Our day was too early in the season for blackberries, but still the thought sticks. The dead surely were there, and we, the currently living, at least for now, as well. And I can only hope that my son and I are and will be in some fashion singing in those woods long beyond the brief moment we took a walk there. How that might be, I cannot know. It lies in heaven itself to say.