I keep finding myself in heaven this summer. Each time I arrive, the furniture and the people are slightly different, but so far, every heaven I have landed in this summer has several things in common.
To get to heaven, I usually take a boat across some water, although sometimes I can get there in our plain old Toyota. It rains in heaven, but the rain is warm and forgiving, and then the sun comes out over the lake or the ocean, and the air clears of its dampness. In the morning, it is quiet, aside from the waves and the songbirds. When I wake up, I get to do some yoga stretches and drink coffee with hot milk, and then I take up my computer and write. Later, when the other lucky people in heaven wake up, we spend the day singing or swimming, or just sitting, talking, and laughing about all the days of our lives before now.
No, I am not dead. I am also not having a manic episode with delusions. But yes, this is in fact heaven. The real one that all those hymns were written about. I didn’t get here by deserving it, or believing it. Instead, I got here by simply opening up my eyes and noticing that I had arrived.
The heaven where I landed this particular weekend was a rental house in Fire Island. It’s my friend’s 40th birthday, and there are six of us here to celebrate. And — get this — we all left our kids home. Our little group has celebrated five 40th birthdays together, and she is the youngest, so we had to do something particularly decadent for her. As much as we adore our children, dedicate nearly every waking moment to their care, taking this few days away for them gave every one of us a little extra room to breathe.
The house in heaven is close enough to the beach to boast an ocean view, but impersonal enough to house different groups of happy people every week or so. It looks like Ikea threw up inside, with low modern sofas and white melamine side tables and a few yellow throw pillows here and there.
Our first evening together, we couldn’t quite get over our luck. We ate together, and shared a bottle of rosé and some beers, and laughed together until our sides hurt. Around ten o’clock, we all decided to walk down to the beach, despite the soft rain falling. We stood on the sand, and heard the powerful waves crashing onto the shore, and we looked at one another, unsure who would be the first of us to rush down and dive into the water. We stood there in the soft rain, or floating on the rise and fall of each wave. And we knew, without a shadow of a doubt, this was a moment we would never forget. We were parents without children. We were children ourselves. We were 40 and more. We were immortal.
It’s easiest to notice heaven when something particularly sparkling happens. A big birthday weekend with terrific weather and even better friends. The sound of the tympani and the horns and the strings colliding at the end of an outdoor orchestra performance. For me, I’m a lot more likely to discover it during the summertime, when the muscles of my back unknit their tension, and the sun shines gentle and bright.
But the more I get here, the more I see heaven waiting for me around even the most mundane of corners. In the way my words spill when the writing is going well. In the curve of a seashell. In the sound of my mother’s laugh. In the sway of the trees in the wind. In the length of a day. In the smile of true friends.