Pine-Scented Pointers to Heaven - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Pine-Scented Pointers to Heaven

Tuesday night, Barbara Walters hosted another of the TV specials whose master tapes probably double as coasters on one of her coffee tables, this time wondering whether heaven exists and how we might get there.

Never shy about using her share of the ABC travel budget, Walters and her entourage went from sea to shining sea and then to India and Israel, interviewing people with a wide range of perspectives on the likelihood and character of an afterlife.

True to form, Walters lumped usual suspects like Theodore Cardinal McCarrick and the Dalai Lama together with a militant atheist, a user-friendly imam, and a sprinkling of scientists and celebrities, seasoning the whole stew with several stories of near-death experience.

I don’t typically mind what Walters does with her time, but she could have answered her question with more certainty and less expense by accepting the salutation in the Lord’s Prayer at face value, affirming the Nicene Creed, or reading books of theology for laymen by the likes of Boston College legend Peter Kreeft, he of the formulation “we don’t do good to get to heaven; we do good because heaven has already gotten to us.”

Away from such rarefied air, Walters might have looked to the musicians known to my generation. In that wing of the museum of pop culture, Eric Clapton ruminates about “Tears in Heaven,” John Denver claims that West Virginia is “almost heaven,” and Ray Charles envies the sun having “nothing to do but roll around heaven all day.”

Failing that, Walters could have speculated about the heavenly motivation for any Christmas party. But she did not, and so that sweet duty falls to the rest of us, as I was reminded at a dinner hosted by friends named Carol and Charlie, where three generations of O’Hannigans walked into their cozy home as strangers to a few of the other guests, but left full of hope for the world.

To the dismay of my piano-playing son, Carol’s upright was out of tune. Fortunately, Joe who shoes horses had an accordion in his Forest Service pickup truck, and his waltz-time rendition of “Silent Night” was a happy melding of Polish influence with Italian heritage.

Joe’s artist wife was introduced to me as a character in her own right, so I didn’t have to catch myself in a double take when I later found her smoking a cigar on the porch, where we talked about the lessons learned by those who persevere through physical injuries.

Dad, of late a walking example of life with injuries, hauled his size fourteens up and down Carol’s steps with typical hesitation. Once inside, however, he twinkled in a corner of the old couch from which he befriended a pair of golden retrievers and regaled other guests with stories about Sister Bernard Joseph of the Bronx, the nun whose place in family lore is assured because one retired (not “ex”) Marine remembers her as his “first D.I.”

When Carol remarked that she’d grown up in a family where “golfing was a religion,” in contrast to her friend Peggy, who hadn’t been heard to so much as pronounce the word H-E-L-L until recently, Dad opined that the Catholic Church had made Hell up, and my answering harrumph was met with a round of laughter.

Munching on chicken casserole, the accordionist praised harmonica player Norton Buffalo’s work with prisoners. I responded with praise for the tasteful restraint of Willie Nelson sideman Mickey Raphael, and the two of us quickly realized that we had a handful of diatonic harmonicas in various keys between us. Those harps were featured in a jam session that stopped only because children got tired of chasing each other and called loudly for an encore of “Silent Night,” while the rest of us wondered whether anyone present knew the German words to that indestructible carol.

Are you asking yourself what a Christmas party has to do with Barbara Walters or with heaven? That’s what Walters couldn’t see, either.

Were heaven anything like its derisory billing among atheists as “pie in the sky when you die,” then neither the birth nor the death of Jesus would have the significance that all Christians say they have. Absent a landing in time by the timeless, despair would be sensible. On the other hand, winter solstice observations wouldn’t come with gifts or with injunctions to “let heaven and nature sing,” and Mary Beth Sua’s schoolgirl rendition of “O, Holy Night” would not fit neatly in my memory with “o hear the angel voices.”

Fortunately, we have no need of alternate reality this time of year, because the reality we’re in has already been sanctified. And as Lucy van Pelt was fond of saying in a statement of faith that escaped the notice of her blanket-dragging, scripture-quoting little brother, “The doctor is in.”

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