At the garden gate


Simon Peter and Mark were playing a game of Tarot just by the garden gate, waiting for decisions to be made on new admissions. Lucas and John were on holiday, Andrew and Matthew had days off, Jude, once again had been suspended from duty over a question of dependability and had been threatened with dismissal; the other Jude was on a different roster. It left Mark and Simon Peter with longer than normal days, with some gaps in activity in which to while away the time.Some said that the Tarot was the Devil’s work but that was just superstition; Simon Peter and Mark liked the game very much. It was complicated and was a fun way to keep up memory skills. It was more intricate than Bridge and less dependent on the number of participants. Lord knew, it was hard enough to keep all the names separate, especially when there were thousands of Smiths, Wilsons, MacDonalds, Campbells and Youngs in their world-wide adaptations to confuse the best of them. After a millenium of this work, any memory sharpening activity was welcome.

Outside the gate, there were some ladder backed chairs and some soft, comfortable wing backs. About twenty old souls were waiting for results on the entrance exam. Every once in a while, a messenger would interrupt Mark and hand him a decision. Mark would tuck the decision paper under his coffee cup until the round of Tarot was finished, then enter the number marked on the entrance exam into the ticket machine which would then flash the number written on the top corner of the results.

Mark called out. “Number 12; Number 12 please come forward” and the postulant would come forward to the gate. Mark would indicate either the garden gate or a little further down the fenced way, the postern gate. Some postulants accepted the decision without a word but some of those relegated to the end of the others stopped to argue and ask for an appeal.

Look at this one”, Mark said, shaking his head.. He glanced across at the souls sitting on the other side of the fence and tried to determine which of them was the one matching the decision.

Ten cents! For eighty-eight years, she atoned for stealing ten cents!”

What on earth would that be now, “ said Peter. “Ten dollars or a hundred? I always get mixed up on the decimal point stuff. I never went to school and I’m still thinking in drachmas and talents.”

Must have been ten dollars. It wouldn’t have bought her two ice cream cones, including Caesar’s tax, today.If she had a dime for every time she thought about it and then tithed that, God would be rich!”
“It’s a such a pity. All that time atoning for something so small, and she wasn’t more than seven at the time. She was forgiven the sin of stealing but she got docked plenty for not believing in God’s forgiveness.”

And the other thing she confessed? “
“Oh, she wasn’t at fault for the other thing. She had no hand in that. She didn’t manage to forgive the fellow even at the end when her daughter told her what forgiveness was about. Now the daughter, she knows about forgiveness. She’s an expert at forgiving herself and accepting God’s forgiveness. Mind you, she’s got a lot more sinning on her conscience, so she’s had practice.”

Well,” asked Peter, curious as to the outcome,” what’s the verdict?”

Oh, she gets in without a doubt. She was pretty upright, that one. Just look how she sits in her wingback. Its as if she had chosen one of the ladder back chairs. Like a queen on parade, that one. She got Paragon status on all but one of the virtues and a good Pass mark on Humility. It wasn’t a constant stumbling block; it was so balanced out by her lack of self assurance. Funny how those opposites operate together, isn’t it?”

But she’ll have work duty as soon as she comes in.. She never recognized a few things in her lifetime that God’s noted down here. She’ll have to get some counselling; but this one was a great student. She’ll be a quick study”

Like what” said Peter, looking at the Virtue sitting elegantly erect in the wingback chair.

Maligning tradesmen. She never trusted them and then always accused them of stealing her blind. For someone who knew nothing of the trades and their skills, she was mightily ungrateful and seldom right. She shouldn’t have been so mistrustful and so quick to jump to conclusions.”

That was part of her pride fault. She was so proud of having come from a poor immigrant background and having risen to the heights of academia and thence to the upper limits of the bourgeoisie that she disdained everyone who did not meet her level of achievement. That’s not very charitable. On the other hand, her tithing was impeccable. It more than balanced out.

And then, she had great difficulty in believing that her children were truthful to her at times, to the point that one of them turned into a blatant liar to protect herself from the consequences. That poor girl She was damned if she told the truth and damned if she lied. There was something wrong there. Virtue will have to confront that and settle it out before she gets to see God.”

And she had some prejudices against anyone not British. Very chauvinistic. It got in here way in dealing with visible minorities. They are all God’s children, no better, no worse. That too wasn’t very charitable. She’ll need to get that straightened out.”

On the Ten Commandments – she was a great defender of them, assiduously reminding people that they weren’t options; they were Commandments. It annoyed some of her family” At this, Mark tittered, as he remembered a few of the young ones squirming under her admonishing glare. “But she got a score of ten on that one. “

Peter and Mark watched as she came towards them, tall and lithe as she had been in her youth, as if walking to the start line of a hundred meter race, the kind she used to run.

How are you today?” asked Simon Peter.

No pain, praise God. It seems an eternity that I’ve been suffering my old bones, but I just feel wonderful today. Not a bit of pain!”

Well, you passed. Come on in.”
She passed through the gate without it opening and disappeared into the mists.

Sometime later, she found herself watching her children go through their daily activities in a kind of television performance that had no edges to it. Talk about wide screen and new technology!

She saw Heather and passed her hands over dear Heather’s forehead and pushed back her curls. Heather smiled for no reason and felt warm for once. For a few minutes, Heather’s worries lifted and she relaxed as she watched a magnificent sunset from her Sechelt balcony.

Otto, well there was a case. She’d never understood how he had become the man he was. She shook her head as she watched him talk about family and then machinate how he could manipulate the others out of what money they had. He had a twisted logic that came from having read too many self-help books on wealth management. He had never learned that money wasn’t the only goal. He was stuck on using other people’s money to make himself rich. But what did he do with the money? Spent too much of it on alcohol and dinners out. Gambled it in highly leveraged real estate and risky mutual fund speculations. What a waste! Why did he feel so cheated vis-a vis the others, she wondered? He’d had more than any other, lost it all twice and had it replaced. And still he was acting as if he had not been blessed. She sighed. She hadn’t found a way to turn that around in him, in life, and now that was her challenge, before she could see God. That could take some time and thought. She put it aside.

Otto scowled. His sisters were taking unfair advantage of him. He’d fight for the last penny. His mind started to spiral into all the times he had received the wrong end of the stick. In a curious way, he relished each detail. A thought of his mother went through his mind. She seemed so far away, unreachable.

Then there was Lizbet. She passed her hands over dear Lizbet’s forehead as well, but with a bit more reserve. Lizbet, after all, had been the first one to say, “If no one else wants this silver plate, I’ve always had my eye on it” and “When these are getting divided up, please remember that I want the two blue ones.” There was a little too much attachment to material goods, thought the virtuous soul looking out.

Over all, Lizbet went to church regularly, followed rules, was impeccably honest, did charitable works and was learning to be more generous and less prideful. She implanted the desire in a collector to go buy a painting from Lizbet and in an instant, she saw Lizbet glow with happiness as her patron of the arts chose a large painting, wrote out a cheque and left with her prize watercolour. That would keep Lizbet for a month, Virtue thought. Then she passed along to Kay.

Ah, Kay! What was she going to do with Kay?

Now there was another case! The soul shook her head.

In Kay she recognized a wonderful dose of kindness, the kind that helps small birds to fly away, that fosters lost children and helps them through their growing up in a marvelous way that the soul had never been able to do. It was Kay who had accompanied her to the garden gate, and a long arduous journey that had been for the both of them. Virtue all of a sudden recognized how much work that had really been and Kay had managed to stay even tempered ninety five percent of the time, bless her heart. She deserved a good life now. The virtuous soul felt a moment of happiness that she had been able to tell Kay how much she had appreciated her.

There was trust in that girl. Too much trust. It got her into the most grievously dangerous situations sometimes and she saw, with her new omniscience, that Kay had only come unscathed from those situations with the help of a host of good angels. God had assigned duty time and again to new angels to ensure that girl came out okay. High maintenance, was Kay, of which Kay was entirely ignorant.

She saw how Kay had been blessed or cursed with too much logic and had wallowed in her youth with the black and white sides of ethics and had, eventually opted for a pragmatic grey area that functioned well for her but had some iffy aspects to it, Kay couldn’t extricate herself from situations sometimes because she held to promises that didn’t make sense. The girl took things too literally. And there was one of those situations hindering her right now.

The soul sat watching and thinking. She was used to direct commands, as befitted a mother, as a means of dealing with personal situations. Black and white had worked for her through life. Just think on the Ten Commandments and the answer was always clear. It wasn’t the what-to-do but rather the how-to-do-it that complicated the task.

Three cloud-sitting days later she had the answer. Franc was the stumbling block in Kay’s life. She was still stuck on that “till Death do us part” promise she’d made, and couldn’t see that she would be released from it if she was drawn into the Devil’s work. That Franc, he kept drawing her away from her life work. That Franc was constantly flirting with Beelzebub.

She hovered over Franc and seeded doubt in his jealous mind, and the rest took care of itself. He was bright, Kay’s Franc, in a curious way, ….

But he didn’t understand her Kay. Never had. He’d never admiitted she had a mission in life and that she was driven by it. It got in his way. Virtue had just about missed it herself, but Kay had been able to make her see it finally. It was a God-given talent, and you don’t mess with those.

Kay didn’t have too many years left. This was her first opportunity to be on her own, to spend her time on her gifts without hindrance. Virtue even saw that, in her slow dance with Death, passing to the other side, she had robbed Kay of her time and focus. Now Virtue had the opportunity to give Kay this gift of time and focus that she didn’t even know she needed.

Virtue bit her thumb at Frank. Frank stewed in his impatience. More than usual, it festered into ire. Virtue had set Frank into the motions of him breaking off his relationship with Kay who would never suspect Virtue’s hand in it.

Up past the clouds, the Virtuous Soul nodded her head.

There you go,” she thought. “That’s the power of ultimatums. Everyone loses. But that’ll be so much easier in the long run for it to work. His pride won’t allow him to come back.”

The Virtuous Soul smiled. Her machination was working. Now all she had to do was to keep Kay’s mind off Franc.

Virtue took stride, herself, for the first time in ninety-five years. As a retired mother, she was having better success than ever before in arranging what she knew to be right for her children, while waiting for her wings.


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