The weathered old man squinted against the sun as his hospice nurse wheeled him outside for the first time in many days.
“Now, isn’t that better, Mr. Stanley?”
He grunted at her by means of a reply. The sunshine did feel good on his face. He gazed about, taking in the hues of reds and oranges adorning the trees. How could it be autumn already? A light breeze rustled the leaves, and one did a dance, tumbling end over end until it landed in his lap. He picked it up and studied it. The beautiful colors would fade soon, and it would be brown and crinkled, dying, just like he was.
His nurse stood next to him, gazing into the cloudless sky. “Do you ever wonder what heaven will be like, Mr. Stanley?”
He looked up at her, pain etched in his wrinkled face. “I stopped wondering years ago. I don’t wonder about heaven because I won’t be going there.” His nurse tried to interrupt, but he held up a hand to silence her.
“When I was a teenager, I wondered what cigarettes would taste like. Soon that wasn’t exciting enough. As I got older, I wondered about marijuana. After trying that, I wondered about cocaine. What would that high feel like? Soon all I cared about was getting more. All my curiosity got me was twenty years in prison.” After a fit of coughing, he continued, his words slow and intentional.
“When I got out of prison, I tried to make a new start. I got myself a job, got myself a wife. Then I started wondering what it would be like to be with another woman. I soon found myself alone. At work, I wondered if I could get away with stealing from the company. After that, my wonderings changed. I wondered where I would sleep that night. Then I wondered where my next meal would come from.”
His breathing was more labored now, and his nurse tried to calm him, rubbing his back.
“After that, I ended up in a shelter. The people there, they fed me, gave me a bed, and got me a job. They are the ones who will find out what heaven is like.” His body was wracked with another violent coughing spell, and his nurse’s brow furrowed anxiously. Recovered, he continued.
“I spent the next ten years determined not to wonder about anything anymore. I kept myself straight, staying out of trouble. Then I started wondering why my cough wouldn’t go away, and why I started to cough up blood. I wondered why I was losing so much weight. They told me I have lung cancer, said that all those years of smoking cigarettes will do that to you. It’s what I deserve. Never did much good for anybody in my life. Not much able to start doing anything now. So no, I don’t wonder about heaven cause I don’t deserve to be there. All that curiosity is slowly killing me.”
His nurse reached down, wiping away the single tear sliding down his cheek. She crouched down in front of him, took his hands in hers, and with a tender voice told him,
“You’re right, Mr. Stanley, you don’t deserve to go there. None of us do. But everything you have done can be forgiven. My God promises that. All you have to do is ask. So tell me, do you think you could be curious just one last time? Curious enough to find out if all the wonderful promises that God gives about heaven might actually be true?”
He stared at her for a long time. Then the tears came faster, tracing the lines in his face. Slowly, a new light came into his eyes. The light of hope, almost extinguished, slowly began to grow until his face was almost unrecognizable.
His voice, barely above a whisper, asked “Do you really think he would forgive me?”
Her eyes full of love, the caring nurse answered “absolutely. All you have to do is ask.”
The old man bowed his head and closed his eyes. He sat in silence for a long while. When he finally opened his eyes, a new emotion shone forth, one that hadn’t been part of his life for as long as he could remember. Where despair once marked his countenance, there now showed only peace.
“I wonder,” he whispered. “What do you think heaven will be like?”
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