I was out on the back porch smoking a cigarette when I looked inside and watched Bern come into the kitchen and take a fish oil pill and get a Klondike ice cream sandwich out of the freezer. As she left the kitchen, she saw me and gave that little side-ways wave we both know how to give because we grew up in southern West Virginia where people wave like they're gently swatting away a gnat--which they probably were--West Virginia having invented multi-tasking....
But before she waved, I watched her unawares for a minute or so.
(Before I go further, I should address the cigarette I was smoking with the porch light off while I watched Bern. I get so much grief and abuse from non-smokers about my smoking, you wouldn't believe it....Though you probably would if you are a judgmental and arrogant non-smoker who gives grief and abuse to smokers you know.
I was getting my teeth cleaned Tuesday afternoon and the dental hygienist asked me if I smoked. That was a rhetorical question, I imagine, since she could surely tell from the stains of my front teeth that I did smoke. God bless her, she didn't abuse me and give me grief. We had established already that she was a member of St. John's Episcopal Church in North Haven and I was an Episcopal priest so we had a modicum of politeness and mutual respect established. However, some of the most vicious grief-givers and abusers of me are Episcopalians who don't smoke. Perhaps it gives them some degree of self-righteousness to talk trash to a priest...I don't know.
After a lot of probing and rinsing, the dental hygienist asked me, politely and with respect, if I'd ever stopped smoking. I told her yes and that there have been long years, a decade once, when I didn't smoke.
"Oh," she said, "but you always went back."
"I always went back several times," I told her, "but the last time I went back was a conscious decision."
She was interested in this conversation and didn't stick anything in my mouth.
"A conscious decision?" she asked.
"Yes," I told her. "I'm a priest and I must, by my call, stand with 'the oppressed' and smokers are the most oppressed people in our society...."
She took that in. "You're kidding....." she said.
"I'm kidding...." I said.
"But not completely...." she added.
"You got it" I said. "Smokers are, in general, a lot less judgmental of choices than non-smokers and especially 'ex-smokers'.
All those time I was an ex-smoker, I was abusive and grief-giving to the lower species around me who smoked.
I stand...and smoke...with the Oppressed....)
All of which was a smoker's rant of an aside. What I started writing about was watching Bern take a fish oil pill and get an ice cream sandwich out of the freezer before you noticed me smoking and watching her from the dark back porch.
My plans as a ghost lie in that direction--being able to watch the people that I love, unawares that they are being watched, do ordinary things.
I've never been enamored by the traditional views of heaven. Being in a place with streets of gold, being weighed down by wings, singing the "Santus" for all eternity.
I want to be a ghost and visit those I love and watch them go about their lives--my daughter and my son and my granddaughters, but most of all, most, most of all, to watch Bern once I am dead--watch her take a drink of water and swallow a pill...watch her look in the freezer for something to eat, watch her reading a book, watch her dressing for a trip to the grocery store, watching her shopping, watching her with my daughter and son and granddaughters do ordinary thing, watching her laugh and be joyful and weep and be sad--perhaps because I am gone--and then remember what she has to do and going to do it.
That would be heaven to me: standing on a darkened porch, watching the ordinary moments of life of those I love.
I can't imagine an 'after life' better than that...
Unless it would include a cigarette or five while I was watching...and a glass or six of wine as well....
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