In March 2017, Annie and I were in China cruising on the Yangtze River. Every day we disembarked and saw fascinating things. The day before we left the river for the city of Xi’an and the terracotta warriors, we took a short bus ride to a four-century-old Buddhist pagoda. It was next to very high rock that was too steep to navigate on foot. Centuries ago, a wealthy Chinese believer built this pagoda, nine stories high—without using one nail. That’s a feat in itself.
The story goes, when you reach the top, you are in Buddhist heaven and will be greeted by the goddess who oversees this realm. This piqued our curiosity. We both knew that this might be the closest we would ever get to visiting heaven and meeting the woman in charge.
You can only enter the structure on the first floor. There is no turning back unless you are prepared to face a herd of aggressive people going up. They are relentless—pushing folks out of the way is acceptable behavior.
Annie and I decided to go for it. The first floor was a piece of cake. The second became a bit steeper. Only seven more to go! By the fourth floor, the stairs resembled a ladder more than stairs. We had to be very careful that our hands didn’t get stepped on and mangled. By the fifth floor, it was a zoo, but there was no way we could turn back. The eighth was demanding but one staircase closer to Nirvana. Finally, we saw the sky and reached the top. We were in heaven! This was a miracle, really a big one, especially because Annie and I don’t believe in heaven and hell as physical places. But I can assure you of this: It sure was hell getting to the top.
When did I stop believing in heaven?
In the 1960s, space exploration was opening new worlds, and the Russians and the Americans were in a fierce competition to get to the Moon first. In that process, I became acutely aware that no one had run into a place called Heaven, so I flushed the heaven and hell concepts down the theological toilet. The famous Saint Peter at the Golden Gate concept became a wild fairy tale.
Many years ago, after much life experience and with more maturity under my belt, I realized that heaven and hell are not physical places—they are states of being. An example: Let’s go back to Maui Memorial Hospital, January 20, 1965, when Annie gave birth to our second daughter. During Annie’s first trimester when we were living in France, Annie had been exposed to German Measles—rubella. The doctor said our new daughter could have many challenges. I can assure you, this was hell—not a place, but a state of being. We had never imagined this. How does one raise such a child? Did we know anyone with such a child? Why our little girl? The questions go on and on.
Before she was one year old, we knew that she had a heart murmur, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and a mature cataract in her right eye. She was severely deaf, and she had nystagmus’ in both eyes, as well as a couple of smaller issues. Fortunately, her mental abilities were normal.
Can you imagine having all these physical problems? Many people would call that a living hell.
Fortunately, our faith helped all of us through this difficult time. Fifty-two years later, we can honestly say, it worked out very well. Our very independent daughter, a college graduate, has a good job and leads life to the fullest.
What do you think about heaven and hell?