One day I died and went straight to Heaven where I was met by St Peter at the Gates.
“Ah … you’ve arrived!” he said looking at his electronic notepad, “it says here that you claimed to have a sense of humour when alive … let’s test that shall we? Tell me a joke … make me laugh and I’ll let you in!”
I was astounded at his attitude on such a solemn occasion; I stumbled to find the right thing to say.
“Ah … not so funny now, are you?” continued the Saint.
“But … ehm …” I mumbled sensing my throat getting drier with nervousness.
“So … what will it be? A funny joke … or will you go straight down without a parachute?” chuckled St Peter through his thick beard.
“You’ve just laughed … a little …” I pointed out sheepishly, but not without a modicum of forlorn hope, “surely that counts as a joke!”
“That’s true,” replied St Peter, “you’ve always been ridiculous to look at anyway … so I’ll let you in.”
I smiled, wiping the cold sweat from my brow.
“Not so fast … not so fast …” said St Peter standing at the doorway blocking my view of who was already there. “I need to check a few things first to see whether you need to spend some time at the Purification Centre.”
“Purification Centre?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied with a chuckle, “you Catholics call it Purgatory. It’s like a car-wash to make sure everyone who enters here is cleansed.”
I gulped and waited as he tapped furiously on his electronic notepad. It bleeped once or twice and then he said.
“I see that a few years ago you prayed an indulgence to St Victor; your namesake. I remember he was quite pleased about it at the time. Not many people tend to mention him in prayers and for weeks he went around with a big smile on his face. Normally people pray to the more popular Saints … First Division Saints, you know.
“It works both ways I suppose. It’s nice to get so many prayers and requests; but quite honestly I get so many that I hardly have time to read them all.
“Anyway … for your indulgence to St Victor you get one week off from the Purification Centre.”
I smiled silently.
“What’s this I see … you also started another indulgence to some obscure Saint I’ve never met. This place is so large it’s just full of Saints. You can hardly walk a few yards without bumping into one. But I’ve never met this one.”
I tried to remember that particular indulgence but couldn’t.
“That’s a pity,” said St Peter, “you never finished the indulgence. So it doesn’t count. In fact I’ll have to add two extra weeks in the Purification Centre.”
I began to despair when the telephone in the little guard-house by Heaven’s Gate rang. He answered it and then said.
“Hmmm … it looks like you have friends in high places here. I’ve been asked to let you in.”
I smiled and moved forwards a few feet; but he blocked my way yet again.
“You’ll have to get changed first,” he said, “Go behind that curtain and put this white gown on … we all wear them here!”
“But …” I hesitated gaining a little confidence, “this looks very much like the gowns they give you in hospital … it is all open at the back!”
“That’s right,” he replied, “it is exactly the same gown. As I said, we all wear them here … just don’t stand too close to a hot radiator, and watch out when you sit on a cold park bench!” then he chuckled very loudly once again.
He saw my hesitation and then continued in a much gentler voice with as serious a face as he could muster.
“We like people to be helpful to each other here in Heaven; it’s not a selfish place you know. When you wear this gown, go around and find someone who is very handy with a thread and needle and ask them to sew it up at the back. That’s what everybody does. Help each other.
“In time, you’ll learn to sew and then you too will be able to help newcomers.
“Also, this gown will teach you humility. You’ll be able to swallow your pride and ask others for help. You’ve always been a bit proud and a little independent. Now’s the time to learn how to rely on other people and to accept their offer of help. Oh … and be grateful too when they help you. Don’t forget to say: Thank you!”
“I will … I will …” I replied timidly.
“Remember,” he said, “this gown open at the back will teach you to help one another, will give you humility, make you accept people’s offer of help, and remind you to say Thank you! You’ll also learn how to sew, and of course how not to stand too close to a hot radiator!”
He laughed heartily once again and then said, “So, what will it be? Will you wear the gown or are you going down with no parachute?”
I grasped the gown from his hands and woke up in a cold sweat clutching the bedcovers tightly in my hands.
I must stop having cheese and whisky before bedtime!