“Listen here, kid. The thing about paradise is that it’s eternal. It never ends, see? It’s just good times, all the time, forever. Is that really what you want?”
The young boy, dressed in his best Sunday clothes, looked up at the disheveled man with doe-like eyes. He had clearly never put much thought into anything, let alone the notion of eternity. All of his beliefs came from his parents and his pastor; he hadn’t questioned the finite nature of his world yet.
The man, his beard unkempt and his clothes full of holes, sighed as he realized that the boy had no concept of infinity. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he searched for a better way.
“Look kid, you’ll understand all of this when you get older, as long as they don’t manage to completely brainwash you in that so-called temple over there.”
Here the man jabbed his thumb towards the church across the street, which still had people pouring out through the doors. It was a newer church, made of glass and metal. It looked more like an office building than a church. Throngs of people- young and old, all dressed as if on their way to a business meeting- were exiting out onto the street. The man scoffed bitterly before continuing.
“Tell me something boy, do you believe in God and heaven and all of that?”
The child nodded silently, his angelic features accentuated by his innocence and the bright daylight hitting his face. While it may have been a crisp autumn day, the boy didn’t seem too cold in his blazer and corduroy pants.
“And where is God? Is he in heaven? Where is that?”
The boy paused, looked up at the clear blue sky and shrugged, his eyes descending towards his feet. The absence of clouds might have been the source of his confusion, or perhaps it was something else.
“You can say that he’s in the clouds. That’s what they tell you in the church, isn’t it?”
The boy didn’t say anything, just stared back at the man with expectant eyes. While he had no idea why he felt the need to do this, the man persevered in trying to make his point.
“Well kid, let me tell you something. Forever is a long time, and even the best things in life don’t last forever. There’s a reason for that. The good things are only good because they aren’t forever, you see? Because if life were easy, it wouldn’t be worth living. There’s a lot of things I don’t know kid, but I do know this: heaven ain’t up in the sky somewhere. That feeling of a righteous forever, it’s in here.”
Here the man put his first two fingers on the boy’s chest, where his heart would be. Something about this resonated with the boy, because the tiniest hint of a smile tugged on the corner of his mouth. The man got a glimmer of satisfaction from this.
“That’s right, heaven is in your heart. It’s about love, kid: loving and being loved in return. Paradise ain’t hard to find, all you gotta do is find what makes you happy and keep it close to you. Hold onto your happiness and fight for it, never let it go. A peaceful forever ain’t easy, kid. If your life is easy, you’re doing something wrong. Just be nice to other people and let love take you where you wanna go. It’s that simple.”
The man quickly realized that had he followed his own advice, he wouldn’t be on a bus stop bench with nobody to talk to except for a child he had only just met. But when he saw the spark in that kid’s eye, he knew he had done something good. As the boy ran back to his parents, he looked towards the sky and let out a deep sigh, content.