Just a combination of three older shorts I wrote
|I. The Problem(s) With Catherine
My job as Keeper of the Pearly Gates is usually an easy one. Truth be told, it’s more of a ‘just for show’ thing than anything else. The OTHERS get hold of anyone who’s not supposed to arrive here, long before they get within shouting distance of my post. My function is mostly ceremonial. I make a big deal of unlocking the gates and ushering in the new arrivals, then I pretty much just point ‘em towards the group of family and friends that’s waiting to meet ‘em.
Things pretty much take care of themselves after that – you know, lots of tearful embraces and shouts of joy, sometimes the occasional reconciliation of folks who got separated before they could fully patch up their conflicts on earth. It’s all very exciting for the newbies, but I’ve seen it so often, well, it’s routine – most of the time.
Not that I mind routine. I love my job, and hope to keep it for eternity. For that matter, I hope it stays routine for a long time to come – not like the day that Catherine arrived! Nope, don’t want to go through another day like that, ever - and ever’s a long time up here.
I suppose I could tell you about Catherine – you might find it amusing – you being on that side and all. Where to start? Maybe her funeral would be a good place. That actually happened long after the problem of Catherine was solved up here, but it’ll give you a picture of who she was. You can learn a lot about folks if you spy on their funerals, which is what I do when things get slow, here at the Gates.
Let’s see. As I recall, Catherine’s funeral wasn’t mobbed, but it wasn’t empty either. What was interesting about it was how few of the people attending recognized each other. There was the family, of course. (Catherine’s husband, John, was already up here. She’d taken care of him for some sixty years, and I recall how impatient he was to see her again – even though our time is a lot more flexible than yours.) Anyway, her son was at the funeral, and his son – whom Catherine had pretty much raised, since the Dad was out of town a lot and the Mom got misplaced somewhere early on. There was also a sister and a niece in the family’s pew. Catherine had sent them a lot of cash over the years, and, well, I kind of suspected they were checking to see if she’d left them any more. But I might have been wrong about that; the judging isn’t my job.
The back pew at the funeral was nearly full. They were all women 'Miz' Catherine had visited at the County Jail over the years. Of course, she’d visited a bunch more than the whole church could hold, but these were the ones who spotted the notice in the local paper and wanted to say “thanks” for her bringing them soap and toothpaste, and milk shakes until the Sheriff nixed the milk shakes. Seems they have rules to prevent people from getting anything that might have drugs hidden inside. Imagine that? Anyway, they all called her “Miz Catherine,” and, like I said, they were paying their last respects.
In between the first and the last pews, there must have been fifteen or twenty small groups of people: three or four in each group. There were folks whose parents had been cared for by the Hospice Program. Catherine had been a regular volunteer, showing up at their homes to ‘sit’ while they ran errands and such. Most of them could tell stories of Catherine cleaning up messes that would make a lot of people gag.
Then there were a few people from the Retreat Program. Catherine didn’t give speeches or anything like that on the retreats. She’d pay her room and board, same as everyone else, and go along to wash dishes and peel carrots and such. Yep, they were gonna miss her in that Program.
One group of older ladies almost didn’t make it to the funeral. They had to convince someone to take ‘em, since none of them could drive, and it was always Catherine who carted ‘em to church and the mall. That was funny, since Catherine was 86 when she died, and they’d taken her driver’s license away when she hit 80.
The last group was a dozen or so of Catherine’s friends. They sat together, even though their ages ran from five to sixty-five. They did all know each other, sort of a family, but not, with Catherine as the grandma figure.
I guess that’s about everyone who showed up at the funeral, except for the clergy, who said kind things about her and joked that she was a “tough old gal, who’d stir things up in heaven.” Little did they know how close they were to what had already happened! I got a real belly laugh out of that part of the service.
See, when I saw Catherine coming towards the gates, I started grinning and getting out the big ole set of keys I use for show. (Tell you a secret – the gates haven’t been locked for a millennia, ‘cause they got stuck once, which annoyed the BOSS, so we just pretend they’re locked and make like I’m unlocking 'em). Anyway, I was all set to pull the gate open, and John and the rest of her folks were all waiting to greet her, when I heard this coughing going on next to me. Since nobody has to cough up here, it really got my attention.
I turned around to see, well, maybe fifty of them – dressed in their long whites, and glowing faces, led by one who must have been elected their Spokesperson, or something.
“Excuse me, but we thought perhaps some facts needed to be brought to your attention – about the woman approaching the gates.”
I was flabbergasted. Nothing like that ever came up before, and I daresay, I hope it never comes up again. I just sort of stood there, so the Spokesperson continued.
“That lady used to purchase cigarettes and bring them to women who were incarcerated. She had a mouth on her that would shame a sailor, and she used to buy her husband beer, even though he was grossly overweight and the Doctors suggested against it.”
John, Catherine’s spouse, tried to interrupt, but couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
“We are also aware that ‘Miz Catherine’ told lies – lots of them. She lied to get her grandson into a parochial school, telling them she was his legal guardian when she wasn’t. She lied to many of those Hospice patients, telling them their families were just in the next room, and that she was a nurse, so that it was permissible for her to clean up their personal parts. Worst of all, she lied for years about having a driver’s license. She’d claim that she’d just ‘forgotten it at home’ anytime the police stopped her while she was carrying those old ladies around.”
Well, my mouth must have fallen open by that point, and Catherine was almost to the gates. I could see her clearly – her gown was a bright plaid, rather than the standard pastels and whites that we usually have up here. What was I supposed to do? The Spokesperson had an answer to my unspoken thought.
“We feel a mistake of some kind has been made. We feel you should delay opening the Gates until a higher authority can be consulted. We feel----“
The clouds almost ripped apart with the sudden, horrendous clap of thunder and shocking bright light that suddenly illuminated the place. I looked towards the spot where the Fifty had stood, and saw nothing. A jingling noise was being created by the keys shaking in my hand, but it was drowned out by an immensely deep voice, the BOSS:
“Welcome, Catherine. Glad you’ve arrived, safe and sound.”
II. Another Gatekeeper story
This is my first vacation in fifteen thousand years. I tried to tell the BOSS I didn’t need it. After all, vacations are for seeing things you haven’t seen, or visiting folks you haven’t visited, or doing things you’ve always wanted to do. I’ve already seen everything I want to see. Let’s face it, everything else kind of pales once you see Him. As far as visiting folks, I spend all my time visiting with folks at the Pearly Gates. Remember, I told you about my job that time when I was telling you about Catherine? Anyway, that only leaves doing things you’ve always wanted to do - only, as the Gatekeeper, I’ve been doing precisely what I most enjoy doing for all these years.
So being on vacation is something of a downer. I’m hoping the BOSS isn’t thinking of retiring me, or switching to one of those new fangled automated systems for greeting the new arrivals to the Streets of Gold. I mean, it’s not as if my crew and I didn’t prove that we are up to the job, especially last week.
You folks down there will be talking about last week for years to come! “Of Biblical Proportions,” isn’t that how the papers and international news stations described it? Disastrous, heart breaking, tragic, and so forth: those were the human words to describe this deepest of human suffering. Even up here, we could hear a mourning and wailing that we haven’t heard since Herod’s soldiers slaughtered the innocent babes of Bethlehem. I’m not sure I can recall ever having so many new souls joining us, all at one time. We didn’t bother to open and close the gates. We just propped them open and spent all our time greeting and meeting, and helping the little ones to join up with family members in the crowd.
Now, it’s not like we didn’t have time to prepare. The BOSS knows about these things, from time eternal, and while, by His own rules, He doesn’t stop the course of Nature, He was, at least, able to give us a ‘heads up’, so that I had a host of assistants and assistants to the assistants ready and waiting as our newest residents began to arrive. I wish He could have given each of those left behind just a glimpse of the welcome we had ready for their loved ones, especially the children – oh, it was the sweetest, gentlest reception imaginable, and they’re all doing just beautifully. I’m really delighted with the welcome my crew put on, which is why I’m still wondering why I’m on this less-than-voluntary vacation.
I’m wondering if I put my foot in my mouth by suggesting that He send out a contingent of angels to visit people in dreams. See, I remembered how terribly upset Joseph was when He first discovered that Mary was expecting. He didn’t understand, so the BOSS sent an Angel to help clear things up for him. Of course, in that instance, we were talking about preparing the way for the Lord Himself, but there have been a lot of angels sent out over the years, when people most needed them. I just thought this might be a way of sharing the load . The BOSS Himself was everywhere, giving comfort to the dying, rejoicing with the new arrivals, offering solace to the inconsolable masses who can’t see this side of things. I just thought calling in the cherubim or even some of the seraphim would give Him a chance for a breather. I meant well, really I did.
He looked at me. I didn’t sense any anger, but there was the slightest hint of sadness in His Eyes. This time, they must be the angels for each other. My Son has shown them how. His words weren’t spoken, they simply moved into my heart. I felt foolish and humbled at the same time. It was the next day that He stopped by and ‘suggested’ the week’s vacation.
He told me to simply take a stretch, “exercise those wings you never use anymore,” He chuckled. Last time I exercised these old wings, I had a voice that spanned the distance between you and I, my friend, and I sang “Glory in the Highest, and Peace On Earth to Men of Good Will.” In the wink of an eye, the people who heard that song were here, and I was greeting them at the gate. In the wink of an eye, every tear will be dried. We do have His word on that.
III. The Third Gatekeeper Story - Terry and the Pope
Hey, it's me again, your friendly Keeper of the Golden Gates, back from vacation and excited about telling you the latest news from this side.
I spent some time refinishing the gates because the word was out, even if it was only shared in whispers. Someone special was coming, and soon. The Boss wasn't letting the name out. He wanted it to be a surprise. Bet you didn't know the Boss loves surprises. You know, that's one reason he created cats and monkeys, and little kids that never do what you expect them to do, but get into tons of lively adventures instead!
Anyway, I'd just gotten the last of the new golden paint onto the gates. I set out signs so noone would brush against them and smear their flowing robes. Those gates were nearly dry and I was doing some last minute sweeping up when the bells started ringing. I do love those bells. The tones are so rich and joyful that they draw a thousand souls out to the gates to greet the newcomers. Everyone was fairly glowing with excitement and curiousity.
Then, in the distance, I saw two forms heading our way. It seemed to be a grandfatherly figure with his arm around a young woman with dark hair and eyes. The man was tall and seemed to have already gotten his robe somewhere along the way. The gal was petite, I guess you'd say, and thin. At first I thought she'd also picked up a robe, but as they got closer, I recognized the hospital gown. We get a lot of them up here, but lickety split, I replace 'em with gorgeous robes as the newbies pass through the gates.
Now, here's a curious thing. Usually, the newbies are overcome by the sight of the crowds waiting to greet them. The families of both of our new arrivals stood close by the gates waving so enthusiastically that I had to warn them once more about that damp paint. But the man hardly seemed to notice, so involved was he in talking to the young woman beside him. She, in return, smiled broadly at him. Seemed to be entranced with every word he was saying. Finally, as they got closer, well, my jaw must have dropped to the ground as I recognized them.
"Holy Father!" I called out, "We are all so glad to have you come to us at last."
Then I recognized his companion. "Terri," I said, "We've been waiting for you as well. The Boss was weeping as He watched you those last few days, but you look so wonderful now, He'll be thrilled."
I put on a stern expression, or at least I tried to, "By the way, young lady, just what's taken you so long? I was expecting you several days ago."
Terri smiled. "I had to wait for him, don't you know. He tried to help me when he could, so it only seemed right that I help him walk the last few steps."
His Holiness sighed. "I did what I could, but it wasn't enough, was it, my dearest Terri?"
It was the Boss Himself who corrected John Paul. "My Son did what He could, and you have done what you could. I ask no more than that. My daughter, it pleases me that you are with us now."
He led both triumphantly through the gates as I closed my eyes and prayed that the paint was dry. Sometimes the Boss has quite a sense of humor - and of course, He hears ALL prayers, so I shouldn't have been surprised when He glanced back over His shoulder, winked at me, and said, "Don't worry, GateKeeper, I've got you covered."