When I was a kid, my parents sent me to Saturday school at a very reformed temple. It was so reformed that Saturday school was actually held on Sunday, because it was more convenient for everyone. Although my parents were basically agnostic, they felt that it was important that I learn about Jewish culture. It also got me out of the house for a few hours.
As I assumed my parents were wrong about everything, I decided that there most decidedly was a God and for a time, I took Sunday school seriously. Every Sunday, the Rabbi would come into the classroom and answer questions from the kids. One, Sunday, Zack Epstein asked the Rabbi if pets went to Heaven. I perked up when the questions was asked as my Guinea pig, Melvin was my best friend and this was very important information.
“Yes, pets go to Heaven,” the Rabbi assured as I breathed a sigh of relief.
“They go to their own separate heaven that is different than the human heaven.”
My heart hit my stomach. What? My best friend would die and I would never see him again, ever? What the fuck was he talking about? I began to panic. If I didn’t get to spend eternity with my baby who was I going to spend eternity with? My hand shot up in the air.
“Yes, Eliza, “said the teacher.
“Rabbi, who do we go to heaven with?”
“Well, those nearest to you. Your parents, your family …..your loved ones.”
There were a few more questions and class was dismissed.
I stood outside in the cold Chicago air waiting for my father’s Subaru to pull up. It was hard to feign a smile when he asked what I learned in class.
I ran into my room as soon as I got home, taking Melvin with me. The warm, plump creature curled next to me on the bed. He purred as I ran my finger over his soft fur. I attempted to contemplate an afterworld that contained Dan and Helene Gale and all my other relatives and no Melvin, or any other animals for that matter. There had to be a way out of this, I just needed to figure out what it was. I called my friend Jill. She was smart she would know what to do.
“Jill, I just found out there are no animals allowed in human heaven.”
“Hum, okay ,” she said.”
“That means after Melvin dies I’ll never see him again.”
“Who said that?”
“Did he say if this was just for Jew heaven or all heavens?”
“There is more than one heaven,” I asked.
“Well, my grandma says each religion has an Idea of what heaven is. There are some heavens that may allow pets.”
“I don’t know, look in the encyclopedia.”
I went into the living room, which contained my robe clad mother. She was watching the news and screaming insults at the Republicans. I walked over to the World Books and looked at them. My father came into the room looking pissed as usual. He sat down without saying a word to either one of us.
“Mom, what are some other religions besides Jews and Christians?”
“What,” she said lowering the volume.
“What other religions are there besides Jews and Christians?”
“There are Muslins.”
“What are Muslims?”
“Those nuts that are always blowing stuff up.”
“there are Indians,” my dad said.”
“Like cowboys and Indians?”
“No like people from the country of India. You’d like them, Eliza. They are vegetarian too. They think cows are people.”
“It’s those people with the dots on their head,” my mom said.
“Not all of em,” my dad said.
“Yeah, all of em have dots on their head,” my mom said.
“No, Helene, I mean not all people with dots on their heads are Indian, some are those Hari Krishnas.”
“What are Hare Krishnas,” I asked.
“The Hare Krishnas are a cult, not a religion. They’re just imitating the Indians,” my mother exclaimed.
“I know Hare Krishnas and they are so a real religion,” my father countered.
“Where do you know Hare Krishinas?”
“You work at the B’nai B’rith..”
I grabbed the H volume of World Book and headed back to my room as the fight escalated. I looked up heaven and could find nothing about which religion would allow Melvin entrance. That Wednesday I invited myself to church with a friend so that I could grill the priest after the service. She was a Catholic and her church was right across the street from my house. After a series of prays, bible readings and a sermon about honesty, I approached the Priest and asked him about animals getting into heaven.
“Well, animals go to a separate heaven,” He said. The weather is always nice the grass is always green and there are always plenty of trees for dogs to pee on.”
“I have a Guinea pig,” I said fighting back tears.
“Well there are also lots of dandelions to eat, “ he said.
I ran home and cried. I really was going to have to spend the rest of eternity with my human relatives. Who would ever want to go to such a heaven? I wondered if we could go to purgatory, purgatory was beginning to sound not so bad.
I got the I volume of the World Book and read about India. It turned out their religion was called Hindu and they believed that one’s soul kept getting reincarnated until it achieved Nirvana; a state of full consciousness. Better yet, they believed that a human may well be reincarnated as an animal. If you came back as a cow, you had actually moved up.
I was filled with a renewed sense of hope. I would simply join the Hindus and keep getting reincarnated, so would Melvin. We could live together in many forms until we achieved Nirvana. More importantly, I would not have to spend eternity with my parents. I made a mental note to get a book about Hinduism and to begin memorizing gods.
A week later, I woke up to discover two smaller Guinea pigs in Melvin’s cage. Melvin was actually a girl who had given birth to two babies. We named them Salt and Pepper.
I ended up dropping Hinduism for agnosticism by the time I was twelve. The truth was, I had no idea if there was a God. I was later to find out that Jews actually believe that heaven entails archiving oneness with God and made no mention of spending eternity with anyone. Rabbi Mitchner had just wanted to make it more palatable for his reformed clientele.
Some part of me still fears an afterlife that contains Dan and Helene and no pets, television or distractions. Unfortunately, there is only one way to find out.