Hell is a place where what you least desire becomes eternally yours, or so we were told as children, well not us, not the Jewish kids, for us Hell was our mothers’ finding that copy of Playboy we stole from our father’s stash our mother didn’t know about, and which he would deny, throwing us under the bus or any large vehicle she found
If we buy into Hell, and given that ours is an aging population, many of whom have landed in Florida and Arizona to avoid the winters that are hell on the ubiquitous arthritis, and all those who have joyously consumed the evangelical Kool-Aid, when the final bell rings, they may be surprised to discover there is far, far more of a chance of a snowball in Hell.
It is an ungainly beast and its cry, as much a bleat as a roar, can pierce the air and is never easily ignored. There are far larger to be found, and far more beautiful. Some have voices that melt anger incite passion, alleviate pain. Some sing in a register so low touch and hearing are merged. Even this beast has its smaller kin, gentler, if not ever soothing, happy to fill a room, not a universe. But the great beast has always known its place, held in the arms of and cradled informal procession, carried forward into battle by the so-called Ladies from Hell.
Some people say religion is dead, or at least mortally wounded. In my generation, closer to death than puberty, there is some truth to that thought because God seems a whole lot less responsive these days, our peers beginning to fall like lemmings from the cliff. But the young clearly have found what has gotten so far away from us, and they have gone so far as to personalize God, something we never dared do for fear of hell for the wrath of our parents and loss of use of the car. Today, even in school and at the mall their faith is on display on their smart phone screens, secretly genuflecting each time they mention OMG.
We have mastered the art of making promises, we can do so without reflection. We are not certain why God seems so reticent to join us, we were created in His image, we are constantly told, yet even when we ask, no promises seem to be forthcoming from heaven. Some say God is far too busy to make even simple promises, for God would have to deliver on them, without fail, something we have never quite managed. Others say promises were what had us evicted from the Garden and we still have not learned our lesson, or so promise the priests and ministers who assure us our place in heaven can always be secured for eternity by a sufficiently large donation.
If my mother was here she would ask me what I have to say for myself. Just this once, I would remain silent, for there is nothing that needs saying and she would be certain that if there were she should be the one to say it, but silence would drive her mad. So perhaps it is good that she is not here, that she did not ask, though if there is a heaven and hell, God or the devil will need to tell her what they have to say for themselves, or they will never, ever hope to hear the end of it.
In his dreams he is still marching across endless paved paths on an Air Force Base that might be Texas or might just be hell. In his recollection, in July there is virtually no difference between the two. He stirs each time his Drill Instructor bellows, which is every few minutes, likely seconds in this dream. He is sweating through his uniform, finds it absurd to be wearing high combat boots in the heat and humidity. But he realizes that he has enlisted in the Air Force, a four year hitch in the theater of the absurd. He awakens in a sweat and peers out the window at the building snow on the lawn.
It is almost Pesach, early this year so I will get a birthday cake not the rubbery sponge cake of matzoh meal, eggs and ginger ale, covered in fruit. We are peeling the applies and chopping them for the charoset for the communal seder most to be thrown away along with the paper plates and chicken bones, and shards of matzoh, dry as the winds of the desert, the memory we drag out each year as the last snow fades slowly from the streets and trees. My friend enters the church as he does each holy week and stops at each station of the cross, imagining what it must have been like to carry the great cross up the hill, knowing that atop the centurions stood with spikes in hand waiting to pierce his wrists and ankles, ready to watch him droop against the wood as the heat licked between his toes. I imagine what it was like pushing the stones up the ramp the taste of sand and the whip burning my tongue. In ten days we can again eat sweet and sour pork and shrimp in lobster sauce and wait another year for the bits of horseradish, and he will imagine the fires of hell as he slips the five into the waistband of her G-string.
First Appeared in Kimera, Vol. 3, No.2, Winter, 1998. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005