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You Can't Take It With You
They say that you can’t take it with you, but here I stand at the gates of Heaven with an old green overfull bookbag on the shoulders of my soul.
“Next,” calls Saint Peter. He stands behind a counter connected to a conveyer belt- the kind they have at the airport- holding a clipboard, a pen, and a ring of keys. I come forward and swing my heavy bag up onto the counter.
“Hi,” I say, trying not to sound afraid. I think I’d have every excuse though; I mean, I have just died, after all.
Saint Peter looks over my soul, head to toe, and I would blush if I still had blood. At length, he says lackadaisically, with no expression of judgement, “Well, let’s get your baggage checked.” He removes the topmost items and goes through them, marking each down on his checklist as he speaks. “One pair running shoes. Condition…” he hesitates, taking in the tangled laces, worn souls, bent heels, stained sides, the holes forming at the toes. “...Condition: used.”
My soul smiles. A runner is proud of a properly destroyed pair of shoes.
He slides my shoes onto the conveyor belt and moves on. “One TARDIS laplander hat. Condition: slightly torn, but still cozy. One scarf, red and black striped. Gift from a friend not seen for a long while. Condition: bittersweet.”
I start. “How did you know-”
He’d raise an eyebrow, if he had them. “Come now. We know everything here. Where was I… ah yes. One green hoodie, soft, warm, too big. Condition: paint-stained and worn. One harmonica, red and silver. Condition: broken. One fear of hospitals-”
“What?!” I recoil away from the thing he’s just placed on the table, unable to believe I had that inside me.
“Just a fear. Lots of those in here, let’s see…” He reaches into the bag and pulls out more of the squirming, awful little things. “Fear of loss, fear of electric shocks, fear of car crashes, fear of abandonment, fear of death, etc. Now, don’t look so horrified, fears are a good thing to have, on Earth. They keep you alive. Still, you hardly need them now. I think you’ll agree we can dispense with these.”
I nod hurriedly and he sweeps the fears off the counter into a wastebasket.
“We can do the same with a few other things you’ve brought. Here are some doubts-” he crumples them up and throws them away “-which I think we can consider resolved. And here’s guilt, which is quite unnecessary here.” He picks up the burden that always seemed so heavy to me and tosses it into the trash as if it were lighter than air. “Some worries…” He scoops a few handfuls of sharp, biting, tiny things into the wastebasket and goes on. “Ah, but here are some things you’ll want to keep: the stories.”
And he takes up stacks and stacks of books from my bag, murmuring their names as he transfers them to the conveyor belt. “The RedWall series, The Book Thief… The Hound of the Baskervilles eleven times over… some Shakespeare, as usual… oh, Les Miserables?”
“One of my favorites!”
He nods approvingly and goes on. “To Kill a Mockingbird, a great deal of Tolkien, I Am Malala… The Screwtape Letters… Wuthering Heights and Fahrenheit 451…” He pauses at the next one. “Good Omens?”
“Oh. Yes, sorry, probably not the most accurate on doctrine, now that I think about it.”
“...You might be surprised. Anyway, The Call of the Wild, the Sherlock Holmes stories… oh dear. I hope you don’t honestly expect me to catalogue all these comic books? Because I’m here literally for eternity and I still don’t have enough time.” He slides the whole towering stack together onto the conveyor belt. “What’s next?”
I lift out a stack of notebooks and binders. “A lifetime of education?”
He nods, makes a note on his clipboard, and moves my entire academic career along. Then he reaches into the bag again and goes on. “One music box, brass. Condition: old. A collection of miscellaneous daydreams. Condition: half-true. A wealth of ideas. Condition: incomplete. One pocket edition of the Oxford dictionary. Condition: heavily damaged, missing a cover. A measure of faith, that’s good. Condition: present, which is enough. A great deal of love. Condition: poorly contained, unwisely rationed, clumsily expressed, but true.”
He opens a pocket of mistakes, and transfers each along, and there are more than I remembered. But then he opens a pocket of successes, and there are more of those than I remembered, too.
Then he tenderly picks up a feathered and glowing thing from the almost-empty bookbag. “Ah, here it is! Hope. You’ve been hard on the poor thing- relying too much on it, I think.”
“Oh. I- I’m sorry.” I look down between where my feet would be at where the ground is not.
“That’s okay; it’s a strong thing, however small. But not to be leaned on too heavily, for one might damage it.” He gently sets hope down on the conveyor belt and turns back to the bag. There’s not much left in it now, and he picks up some loose papers from the bottom. “A collection of showgrams, posters, photographs, and playbills. Condition: loved. One voice, soprano. Condition: too quiet, except when it is too loud.”
He reaches deep into the bag then and pulls out something… else. Something red and warm and familiar. “One heart, slight hole between the aortas (repaired),” he says. “Condition: torn in places, clumsily repaired, held together in places by ribbons and twine, unwisely used and not well cared for, but full nonetheless. Always full. Next, one mind. Condition: ditzy, cluttered, impractical. You’ve had some real cowboys in here, you know.”
“Finally, one soul.” He looks up at me.
“And one old green empty bookbag.”