Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Heaven on the Quai

If truth cannot be found or arrived at, but merely given, what will the philosophers talk of in heaven?

I no longer believe in one truth.  If it were so, conversation would have no healing power.

This is how my thought came to be.

Île de la Cité

I was walking around  Île-de-la-Cité , having decided I’d see for myself what this little island was about, strolling along the Quai aux Fleurs when a beautiful red-headed man asked me where St. Michel was and I pointed—with my hand—down the road, realizing I did not know the word for ‘straight’ or ‘ahead.’ (For future reference: Continuez à marcher tout droit.—WHAT THE HECK? ‘straight’ and ‘right’ are the same word!?!  How confusing is that!)  He thanked me and continued on his way.

I continued, too, down a little quai named Quai d’Horloge.  So, naturally, I was thinking of clocks and clock makers (horloge = clock) and wondering if there was any eternal significance to me walking around memorizing this city.  Then it occurred to me how much and how often I wish I could time travel.  All I want to do is walk down Quai d’Horloge when it really was the Quai of horloges, is that so much to ask? and I realized the closest I may ever get is when God calls those lectures in heaven together and I get to talk to the Parisians of the 16th century—no joke I really think these things—and know, when they say ‘Quai d’Horloge,’ where in the city they mean.  Fist pump in heaven, lording it over all my friends who will have NO clue where Quai d'Horloge is.  (Except for you, now, grâce à la carte--thanks to the map--I've included above.  See on the top left of the island--Quai de l'Horloge?)

Back to thought about knowing where Quai d'Horloge is when all my friends don't.--Neat.

But of course THEN I was thinking about who I’d really like to be with in heaven, and of course (of course) the French Enlightenment philosophers came to mind, and I figured that probably Jefferson would be there too, so I’d be killing two birds, so to speak, and then—I hit a brick wall.

It really hurt.  Metaphorically.  I nearly stopped RIGHT there on Quai d’Horloge thinking, “Oh no!  What will they TALK about?” Because French Enlightenment thinkers were–well every artist ever (yes, conversation is an art) has been—about finding truth.  Talking around (or painting, or writing, or sculpting, or whatever around) the truth in circles until you nearly come to the center of it, trying to figure it out and understand it .

We talk about, and I had largely accepted that once we die, we will be informed of the truth, and then we’ll be happy, because we’ll have the truth.  But the problem is that people think that now!  And it’s certainly not the case for me.  What I mean is, people think, “If only they had the true and everlasting gospel, they’d be happy.”  And I’m not saying that the true and everlasting gospel can’t make you happy, I’m just saying it’s not a cure-all and it doesn’t solve all problems and it DOESN'T make me happy all the time.  It doesn’t even answer half of my questions.  The gospel would have never quelled the minds or the spirits of Enlightenment philosophers—it certainly doesn’t come close to quelling mine—and even if they'd believed it, they'd still be talking about what truth is and where to find it!  So geometry--that great mathematical enlightenment of my youth--and its proofs have taught me that if some people say we have the truth now and it should make us happy, but it isn't the cure-all, it stands to believe that even if we have the truth in heaven, it may not be the cure-all, and thus we will still be having conversations in heaven about truth.  This brought me to the conclusion that perhaps how we can better define the truth we have on earth is "necessary and saving truth" rather than "truth" as a catch-all.  Furthermore, this begs the question, “Will we ever have ALL truth?” and my desperate realization, “I hope not.”

Ah!  It slipped out!  I had no control over the desperation.  Am I going to burn in hell?  (If so, I might as well continue:) Then I thought, maybe even God does not have all truth, but still discovers it every day, through us, through his work.  I mean, "necessary and saving truth" he has, knowledge he has, but maybe there is still truth to be had, even for him.  That’d make life interesting again. (I’ve also wondered if God is bored up there and am desperately hoping not--for his sake.)

And all of these thoughts in combination—or more in conflagration, perhaps—brought me to my disbelief in one truth.

Heaven (No joke.)

We think heaven will be a perfect place full of light, truth, perfection.  But if it’s much different than life on earth, it could be hell.  And honestly, hell sounds boring.  I mean people who don't care about food talk about a heaven where we won’t need to eat—but then what will the chef’s do with their passion?  People who don't notice the buildings that surround them talk about a heaven where the elements will have no power to hurt or kill us and we'll live on clouds—but then what will the architects do with their life passion?  Most of us imagine a heaven without pollution or cars or dirt or rocks—but what will the mechanics do, or the engineers, or the geologists?  And a heaven where no one is sick, no one is ailing—what will the nurses and the doctors and the surgeons do?  We talk too often about a heaven where truth is known—but then what will the archeologists, and the philosophers, and the physicists do?  And what about the linguists, and the historians, and the chemists, the personal trainers, the movie producers—what will they do?  Certain types of people decide that certain things in heaven will be unimportant, and continue to disregard all the human beings who have made that thing their life-work, have found it as their passion.  You can’t tell me history won’t matter, it’s the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.  You can’t tell me language won’t matter—I know too many linguists for that to be possible.  You can't tell me movies don't matter, they've taught me more empathy than every church meeting combined.

I keep thinking of circumstances in which heaven could be the most boring place on earth—if all things, especially intellectual and spiritual truths, were just given to us.  And I realize how much I hope for a heaven that is a lot like earth.  Maybe earth is that great university of life where we are taught not what to think, but how to think, not what to do, but how to do it.  In heaven, I don’t want people to have to scrape for survival, but perhaps we should always have to scrape for truth.  That way, it means a little bit more.

For now, back to the Quai.


  1. Wow! So true. Heaven would not be heaven without constant learning and progression. Unless there is some totally new/different way of being that I can't imagine in my mortal state. What a cool building this is! I'm not an architect, but...

  2. I think "tout droit" is straight and "a droit" is right, but, it's been a while. :)

  3. I think about these same thoughts of yours very often - thanks for sharing. I always figured others must feel the same way I do but it's nice to hear it so beautifully expressed here by someone else.

  4. (I agree on the straight/right thing. Sarah's right that "tout droit" makes the distinction, but it's still a confusing one.)

    I think the search for truth and the continuing existence of mystery are in themselves some of the greatest reasons to live. I was going to quote Kierkegaard cause I remember reading something he wrote to the effect of, he would choose to eternally struggle and grasp for the truth rather than actually finding it, if he had the choice. But I can't find the quote. One day I will be a better Kierkegaard scholar, in my free time.

    I was having lots of thoughts to expand upon while I read this, but now I can't form them very well. So I will just say, thank you for being so eloquent, for keeping us linguists in mind, and Amen.

  5. Rose directed me to this. I have often thought that heaven must be multilingual or I couldn't be happy there. This is a wonderful and exciting extension of that thought. I must mull it over more.

    It makes me happy to think of you in Paris! I hope you are enjoying the enjoyable bits! If you ever go up Saint-Denis way, I can refer you to some good Georgian musicians. Since I'm sure that's why you are in Paris. Anyways, take care, dear.