St. Peter in pink slippers at the great door
The urge to write is so strong some days that it’s able to draw a dream out of nothing and bring it to life. When I open my eyes each morning, I grab my notepad and pen, always waiting at the same place on my bedside table, and try to quickly jot down everything that appears to me. So, this morning, when I emerge from under the covers and opened my eyes wide, I see a huge, tall red double door with a golden handle. Where am I? Keeping my feet warm, I switch on my neurons. The world before me is almost too real to be imagined.
I'm on a narrow road, I can't see anything behind me, but I'm sure I’ve been walking awhile. Perhaps all my life. I am walking on a kind of invisible Chinese wall. Turning my head skyward, I can almost reach out and touch a cloud. The road is like a tunnel, a long open-air corridor with large paintings here and there showing pieces of my own life, pictures that are alive, like giant screens at a drive-in theatre where everything moves. I can feel emotions, hear sounds and even my own voice changing as I grow older.
There, on my right, head first, I see myself emerging from my mother's womb. Women's hands welcome me, all red and slick, and plunge me into a basin of warm water. Then I see myself crawling on the yellow kitchen floor, my little fingers trying to grab the food that has fallen from the table. Further on, there is Mom looking so pretty as she cradles my brother on the Caplan porch. Later, she is in the kitchen, cutting long ribbons of cloth from an old sheet, mummifying her eczema-scarred hands, tightly wrapping the flesh of each finger with strips of cloth. And further on, I hear her cry out as she dips her hands into a sink filled with boiling water.
I move forward and Grandpa Frédéric is coming to his daughter’s rescue with a big brown bag of hazelnuts for the children. He sits on the ground with us and I listen as he explains that when the moon is red, it will be warm the next day. When the earth freezes before the snow comes, it's a sign that the maples will flow in the spring. And further on, it is summer. He and I are on the seashore. For fun, he wraps a few long scarves of brown seaweed around his neck and hops around, squawking like a hungry cormorant trying to scare me.
In several pictures, I watch as my father comes and goes with his small travelling salesman’s suitcase. I hear Mario Lanza (American tenor, 1921-1959) singing at the top of his voice in the living room while Dad cries. Further on, two little girls are playing in a sandbox, two blonde heads with curly locks like sheep, while a Mr. know-it-all tries to make them believe that the Bonhomme Sept Heures (a terrible boogeyman-like creature that snatched children who weren’t home by 7 p.m. and stuffed them in his burlap bag) still exists.
What is happening to me? Has an angel filmed my life to remind me of it at the fateful hour? Am I really on my way to the afterlife? Will all these moving pictures plead my case or make it worse? Have I really glimpsed the great gateway to heaven?
I have never walked the Compostela. Yet for a moment I feel as if I am there with an angel holding my hand. And a good thing too, because a few steps further on, a great sadness comes over me. I am wearing my wedding dress, my belly already full of life. I cry when my husband takes off his wedding ring on the church steps. Thank goodness, the angel pulls my coat tails at that moment and I fast-forward through the years. I am older now. In several scenes, my three children grow up before my eyes, their lives magically condensed into a brief moment. All four of us working, surviving and succeeding together. I am often wearing a white kitchen jacket. I smile. I am happy because I enjoy delighting others. And I especially enjoy creating new dishes to amaze guests.
Does this long road really lead to heaven? Am I still far away? I straighten my pillows and turn on a small lamp to light my notepad. Outside, the night sleeps soundly. AM I DREAMING OR IMAGINING A DREAM? The rumpled quilt repudiates my peacefulness. Placing one foot in front of the other, I advance. Thunderous noises send shudders through my ego; fear grips me and I try to pray. In the magic picture, I find myself imploring the creator above. And when life is good, when a dazzling sun illuminates my desires, I carelessly forget this divine presence in my heart.
What can I do? The road moves across the sky, bumpy, rising and descending to the cadence of the clouds as they expand and retreat. Am I on the right track? I'm afraid I'm still a long way from heaven and even more uneasy that I am too close to that massive door as red as the fires of hell. The angel places their hand on my shoulder. What do I know about this heavenly place? I try to remember the instructions I received from the Small Catechism during my childhood and everything gets confused in my head. Does paradise really exist? I ponder these questions. Have I been a good person, a good mother? It seems I always had a good reason for working too much.
Fear continues to immobilize me. Acid rain strikes my eyes causing all the pictures of my life to blur. Am I already dead? On my way to the Last Judgement? Suddenly, something happens. The golden handle moves, it creaks and turns. I'm afraid, I'm just an old woman looking for a little more peace. A minute, an hour, an eternity, an immaculate silence imprisons the space. My mind tries to run away, to dive into an ocean of sharks, to hide at the ocean’s floor. Then just like that, with a huge crowd gathered outside, the high red double doors swing open with the weight of all the sins of the world. I panic, I thought I was alone on the road. Where am I? What is going to happen?
A thousand-year-old man appears to me. He walks towards me in a white toga and pink slippers. He stands motionless before me. When his eyes look into mine, my heart splinters into a thousand pieces. Then the ancient man stretches his neck, opens his arms wide and embraces the crowd’s soul. I shiver with hope. Will I be among the chosen ones? And as if he had heard me, St. Peter's cracked lips deposit in each one of us our last rites, a blessed absolution: “Enter, my dear children. There is room here for all the souls of the world.”