Road of Many Ways (5)

Alan’s Story

PERHAPS THE STORY of a judgment throne is more my story than John’s.

I come from Sydney. That’s right, I’m Australian. My name is Alan.

Perhaps I should say I was an Australian and, well, as you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly an angel. I wasn’t a bad man, I suppose.

I’d led a full life and enjoyed every moment of it. I always enjoyed a beer or two and still do, as a matter of fact. That may sound funny to you but it isn’t really,you know.

The life that we have here isn’t so vastly different from the one we’ve known on earth. If it were, I don’t think any of us could take it. Not at first, anyway.

My passing was somewhat similar to John’s, I suppose.

It was in the heat of battle when suddenly everything went very, very quiet. Dead quiet, in fact. Not a sound.

“Where the blazes has that Jap gone to? He’s gone to ground somewhere out there,” was my first thought.

Then I looked down, and there was this fellow lying there on the ground. I stared at him.

“Your face is familiar,” I thought. “I’ve seen you around but I don’t remember you being part of the outfit.”

Then it dawned on me. That was me I was looking at.

But it couldn’t be. And yet it was. That was me, fair dinkum!

There was only one thing wrong. I had a hole right through the middle of the forehead.

Well, I knew then that I’d bought it. I’d never been so scared in all my life as I was at that moment. I began to panic.

Blimey, what now? What’s going to happen now?

With that I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned, and there was this Pommy officer standing there.

He speaks to me in a voice that sounds like he had a mouthful of plums, and he says, “Hold on, old chap.” You know the way they do.

“No need to panic,” he says. “The time to panic is past. None of that can touch you now.

You’ve come to the end of one road but you’ve just taken your first step onto the new one.”

Well, I didn’t quite know what to make of it.

“Come on,” he says, “come with me.”

The strange thing was I didn’t want to leave that body. It was drawing me. I wanted to look at it.

He says to me, very gently, “Come on old man, it’s no good to you anymore. Just lift up your hand. Go on, lift it up.”

I quizzed him for a moment, then I lifted it up.

“Now look at your hand. Is it any different from the one on that body lying down there?”

I looked down, and it was the same old hand, but it was different. Something was different. I couldn’t quite make it out.

“Now look, compare your hand with the hand down there.”

And I did.

“Now think again. What’s the difference?”

Well, for the life of me I couldn’t think of one.

And I clenched my fist, just thinking about it.

The other fist didn’t clench, not the one down there on the old body.

Then it dawned, dawned on me bright and clear like a sunny morning, and I gawked at him. “The one down there ain’t got no life.”

“That’s right, friend. But yours, the one you’re looking at, the one you’re moving, that’s got life, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I says, “it has.”

“Well?”

I knew what he meant. I was living. I was alive but that body there wasn’t, never would be again. In a few days’ time it would pretty much cease to exist altogether.

“But. . .

“That’s right,” he says, “but you’ll go on. No more pain, no more sickness.”

No more a lot of things, I thought to myself.

“How do you know?”

Now that shook me, because I hadn’t said anything!

“You a ruddy mind reader?”

“No,” he replies, “not a mind reader. But you’ve got to start getting used to a lot of things here.

You’ll find that one of them is ‘behave your thought’, because whatever you think, other people can see it too.

And if you start thinking all sorts of thoughts, you are going to attract to you people who think the same way and, well, if those thoughts aren’t any good, it is not going to help you.

Now, come along with me. You’re going to need a bit of a hand. Put your arm across my shoulder.”

As he said this he put his arm around my waist. “Right, now close your eyes, tight.”

I did, and what seemed like a moment later he says, “Alright, you can open them again now.”

We were moving out of a hazy sort of fog onto an open clearing.

No, it was more than a clearing. It was an open plain at the far end of which was a hill, and we were walking steadily towards it.
Suddenly, I felt tired. I wasn’t sure that I wanted this . . . that perhaps the old body . . .

“No,” he says, “there’s no going back there. You can only go forward now and over the hill, and I’ll help you.”

He did, and as we went I suddenly felt someone on the other side of me. I looked round, and there was old Smithy.

My God! He’d copped it in North Africa.

“Smithy! Whatever are you doing here? You’re dead.”

He says, “You know, you’re a nut.

Here you are, and you’ve been talking about death for the last ten minutes, looking at your own body, and you haven’t got it through your thick skull yet that you’re dead!

Well,” he went on, “we’re both dead now, but I thought I’d like to come along and meet you.

Am I the first one to get along here?”

“Well, Smithy, you’re the first one I know.”

“Good,” says he, “I’m glad of that, then. Anyway, let’s get over the hill.”

“What’s on the other side?”

“The other side of the hill?” asks Smithy.

“Don’t hold out on me, cobber. What’s over there?”

He says, “Well, if you think maybe you’re going to see the ‘pearly gates’ on the other side of that hill, you’ve got another think coming!”

“Now look, Smithy,” says I, “do you mind if we sit a moment?”

And he looks at this Pommy officer sort, who nods, and we all sit down on the slope of the hill.

“Look, Smithy, you know me. You know what sort of life I’ve led. I’ve not exactly been an angel. I don’t suppose I’ve been really bad either, but I ain’t been really good.

A lot of things I haven’t done I should have done, and a lot of things I’ve done I shouldn’t have done.

Well, it’s nice of you to come and help me and all that, and ready to speak up for me but, well, since there is a life hereafter, which is something I’ve always had my doubts about, maybe the rest of the set-up’s there too. You said there weren’t no pearly gates?”

“Yeah.”

“You mean I’m going the other way?”

“No,” says Smithy, and he laughs like a drain. “No. None of us who comes here, comes here as angels. That is something you’ve got to work up to. But there’s angels around ain’t there, sir?” The Pommy officer nods and smiles but doesn’t say nothing.
.. In fact he hadn’t said very much since we got through that mist belt.

I could see it back there like a heavy bank of fog. And there were many other soldiers coming out of it.

“Look,” 1 asks, “surely you’re separating the sheep from the goats and all that — like Judgment Day?”

“No,” answers Smithy, “there ain’t no judgment day. That’s already over.”

“I don’t remember it.”

“Well,” says the Pommy officer, “do you remember when I put my arm around you and told you to close your eyes, and carried you along.

“Yep, I remember that.”

“You remember when we came out of that mist you felt rather tired and weak?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Right,” he says. “That’s the only judgment you’ll ever have.

When you pass from the old world to the new, you pass judgment on yourself.

What judgment did you pass on yourself?”

“‘Fraid I don’t know. Ain’t got no idea about that.”

“Well,” he continues, “could the judgment have been so bad when your friends, like Smithy here, came to meet you straight away?

He went right through to where you’d be and waited for you to come through there. The call went out, and there he was. You think the judgment has been harsh or easy? It’s been neither.

It’s been completely just. You are what you are.

You’ll find now that you will meet a lot of people here. Some you know and some you don’t know.

They’ll all be pretty much like you. Now, come along with me.”

We passed over the hill and there beyond it was quite a sight I can tell you, almost like some of the bays and coves on the coast south of Sydney.

A beautiful headland, the sea stretching away, the sort of land I loved, the place I used to like to wander in during the summer, sitting and watching those beautiful Pacific ocean breakers pounding on the shore.

“Blimey!” I exclaims. “It’s a slice of home!”

“Yes,” replies this Pommy, “not altogether unfamiliar to you, is it? Whatever is down there, we’ve got up here and, well, we thought you’d be happy in a place like this, so we brought you here. Come on, I’ll show you where to report.”

We started off down the hill.

There was a lot of people about and they all seemed to take notice.

They all waved and called a greeting. “Welcome home, soldier.” “Welcome home, cobber.”

Some of them fell in behind and beside us, and we all walked down the hill, down to the little . . . well, you might call it a little village.

As we came to it there they were — two or three of the boys we’d lost a long time ago — fellows I’d forgotten about.

Old friends they were. It was quite a reunion!

“Come in, cobber. Come on in and sit down.

We got the beer laid on.” And they had too.

Lovely, ice-cold, tall glasses of beer.

I looked round at the Pommy officer, and he smiled.

One of the blokes said to him, “Well, John, it seems our friend is puzzled ‘cos he’s got the beer.”

John (this Pommy officer) he just smiled and said to me, “You go right ahead.

You love beer and your idea of heaven is a cold beer on a hot day, and you’ve had quite a day.

If that’s your idea of heaven, well, there’s heaven staring you right in the face. So you get right in there.

You walked through the valley of the shadow and you didn’t know it was there.

You’ve been judged and you didn’t know it, because you judged yourself.

You’ve got the little bit of heaven you wanted most. The only thing that was missing was that ice-cold beer.

You wanted it, and there it is. It’s not against the rules.

Whatever you want, if you want it enough you can have it.

Drink up, and good health!”

Well, I must say it was the best beer I ever tasted.

That’s the beginning of my story, my first toehold in this world.

Believe you me, it was a shattering experience.

Strange to come from a battle and go through all that.

And yet, none of it was out of place, none of it was really unreal.

Perhaps because Smithy was there, almost from the moment I realised I’d arrived
.
There was a familiar face, a friendly hand.

There was also someone who was obviously in charge and knew what he was doing, and I fitted into the pattern pretty easily because in the army, well, your officers do the thinking for you anyway, or so you imagine.

One gets used to it. And even if he was a Pommy, he was an officer, and here I was — home.

Well, not quite, but it was a stopping place along the way.

It wasn’t really home as I discovered later.

It was a sort of resting area. An in-between place.

A decontamination centre, if you like, before we moved on; a place where we still had our thoughts about getting back to the fighting.

Remember, we could look down and see our bodies.

“Why the heck don’t we get in there and really stuff the Japs up?” we thought.

We hadn’t got round to wondering about what happened to the Japs we had bumped off.
Where were they?

We hadn’t got to that yet.

We were only at the first stage.

The rest came later.

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