God. For that matter, I can't even begin to imagine the dimensions and boundaries and fabric of the next life. If it lacks both time and space, I have no ingredients and hence no recipe for it.
This irritating situation came up last week while Hurricane Frances battered our windows and screamed about the seventeenth floor of our tower on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. Knowing that my corrugated metal storm shutters had sealed off my view, my neighbors invited me next door for dinner and to witness the storm through their newly installed high-impact-glass-category-five-proof windows. We watched the waves literally deliver the beach up onto Route A1A and began to talk about our lapsed practice of Roman Catholicism. We watched the blue flashes from arcing power stations to the north, somewhere near Oakland Park Blvd, while performing the ritual trashing of absurd 20th century church leadership. We saw the entire city north of our perch on East Sunrise Blvd slip into darkness as power failed, while we recalled our childhood exposure to Limbo.
A nun in the 1950's explained to her class that the unbaptized (mostly infants whose brevity on earth did not allow for the spilling of holy water across their brows, and folks trapped in the outback of Australia) who, through no fault of their own, had missed the golden opportunity to join the family of God, should expect to end up in Limbo rather than in Heaven. The words Limbo and Heaven were delicious and as attractive and unknowable as were the daily televised Mouseketeers whom I was sadly certain I would never meet and never join. Each day, in order to get to this nun's classroom, I took a bus labeled Blue Hills. I never rode that bus to the end, and I assumed that Blue Hills was the last stop before Limbo which neatly preceded Heaven.
Supposedly, in Limbo, one enjoys all the pleasures of Heaven except for the joy of seeing the face of God. He simply doesn't go there. The nun went on to assure us that the infants and Australians don't really miss his company because they are afterall, immersed in every other conceivable and inconceivable pleasure.
As soon as she said this, I began to long for Limbo and to resent my parents for having baptized me before I could think for myself and fend off the holy water. I began to imagine living in Heaven. I'm in my perfect home. My quarreling parents do not exist. My younger brother does not exist. I am eating great stuff, and the Mouseketeers are with me. We are singing when the doorbell announces a visit from God. Annette quickly cleans the kitchen table while I run to make the bed. We welcome God into the house and have a cordial visit. Things are just fine. Would you like some coffee? God, it's wonderful to see your face. Come again soon.
I imagine Limbo right down to the same doorbell, but without the visit from God. What could possibly be better? If I had been ten years older, I would have framed this in terms of "no need to hide the magazines or flush the drugs". That evening, at the dinner table, I glared at my parents and protested my permanent and relentless baptism. They looked at me as if I were not their spawn, but trapped as they were in an unhappy marriage with responsibilities that they wished would disappear, their eyes betrayed a longing for the Limbo I described to them.
The next day, as I boarded the bus to school, I decided that since Limbo was off limits, I would opt for Blue Hills rather than Heaven. This plan has led me through a wonderful life of serious sin in which I swear I've seen the face of God many times. He smiles at me before he slips out the back door in the early hours and returns to his obligations. He's OK with my choices. He's relying on me for his inconceivable and conceivable pleasures.