“But is there a heaven?” he asked in all seriousness.
“Well,” I replied, “I think, um, I think that depends on how you define ‘heaven.’”
Son Sean, 12 at the time, looked at me blankly. “Whatd’ya mean?” he asked earnestly.
I felt my heart squeeze, like a little fairy had gone inside my chest and pinched the throbbing red muscles just to tease me. Whenever my son looked at me with his innocent boy’s face, trying so hard to understand the life he had been brought into, my heart was tweaked by this little pixie.
“I mean,” I said, clearing my throat, “that heaven, the word heaven, means different things to different people. It kind of depends on what they believe in. What their religion is. Who, or what, their God is, and what God and heaven signifies to them.”
Sean’s expression turned to disappointment – in me and my convoluted explanation.
“Well, you know that there has to be a baboon heaven,” he exclaimed matter-of-factly.
“A baboon heaven. How do you explain a baboon heaven?” Sean’s voice noted exasperation.
“What is a baboon heaven, Sean?” I asked quietly, gently. As he grew frustrated, I wanted to keep the conversation calm.
Sean explained: “If there’s a heaven for people, then there has to be a heaven for baboons, since we’re evolved from baboons.” As proud as he was with his pronouncement, I could also tell that he wanted me to either trip up on this theory, or agree with him that there was no heaven for anyone, baboon or human being. Or, he wanted me to tell him, for sure, that heaven only existed for good people.
“Of course there are baboons in heaven, Sean, just as there are dogs, and cats, and any being that has a soul or a spirit. You told me you don’t believe that Tory is ‘just’ a dog, that she’s a special being. Do you think that she’ll go to heaven when she dies?”
There, I’d turned the question around to him.
Silence ensued. The pause ticked into a minute, and we heard the click of the toaster oven downstairs, informing us that the morning bagels were probably overdone. We needed to leave for school in five minutes.
“Do you?” he retorted, finally.
“Yes, I do. But I think of heaven as not something ‘up there’ or ‘in the sky,’ but rather a place that’s all around us.”
Sean looked around the wallpapered bedroom. The 7 a.m. rainbowed-sun shone through the large picture window, reflecting the glimmer of the Bay water below us.
“Hmph,” he replied as he walked out the door and down the stairs to breakfast.
“Do you believe there’s a heaven, Sean?” I called out to him.
“I know I don’t want to die to find out,” he yelled back over his 12-year-old shoulders.