The following column appeared originally in 1988.
In a memorable "Far Side" cartoon, a barefooted man dressed in a robe and sporting wings and halo sits forlornly on a cloud.
What's he thinking?
"Wish I'd brought a magazine."
Whatever our religious beliefs, we're all familiar with the notion of paradise, an existence without troubles or cares.
But for most of us, paradise seems far removed from our everyday lives. What would it really be like?
Popular culture gives us plenty of notions about heaven.
In an old Jimmy Rodgers song recorded by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, a hobo wonders whether heaven will have freight trains. Like many of us, this hobo has a hard time picturing a different kind of life. Heaven? Ah, to ride the rails without having to worry about the cops or brakemen who made his life so tough!
The idea of heaven goes hand in hand with the notion of everlasting life. But of course heaven and everlasting life aren't necessarily the same thing. Heaven is where you hope to spend everlasting life.
Virginia Cary Hudson had some amusing observations on the subject in "O Ye Jigs and Juleps," her turn-of-the-century account of small-town American life from a schoolgirl's view:
"Bishop Jordan told me everlasting life was God's precious gift, and I told him if it was just the same with God, I could think of things I would like better. . . . You go to heaven with your Everlasting Life that makes you an angel, and Peter, or Moses, or somebody, lines you all up and passes out the crown and the harps. I sure am glad I take music lessons."
The world's religions provide various visions of an afterlife. The Bible contains some powerful ones.
But theological notions of eternity are one thing, and the pictures, vivid or fuzzy, that get planted in our minds are often quite another.
Burt Garnett, who died at the age of 100 after an 86-year career in journalism, once explored the subject in a delightful weekly newspaper column he called "Century Bound."
"I'm not sure I would like to live forever," he wrote.
"I think the general impression of true believers is that it would mean eternal happiness. To suit me, I rather think there would have to be interesting things to do, plenty of time for sleep and good things to eat . . . But honestly, I am unable to visualize an environment that would be entirely without boredom."
Was that Burt Garnett in "The Far Side"?
Garnett's favorite notion of everlasting life turned out to be something else:
"How about eternal, peaceful, dreamless slumber without ever waking up and having to go to the bathroom?"
Send your comments and questions about death and dying to Sara Engram, Mortal Matters, The Evening Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore, Md. 21278.