I can’t remember if I’ve recommended Mark Twain’s short story, “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven” before around here, but if not, I highly recommend it. Today, it was prompted by a post of Tipsy’s touching on the relationship between God and the world.
That reminded me of Captain Stormfield’s arrival at Heaven. He had been racing a comet which took him fairly far off course, causing him to arrive at Heaven by the wrong gate; causing much consternation for the Heaven bureaucracy that has to make arrangements for an entire universe worth of arrivals.
I lit. I drifted up to a gate with a swarm of people, and when it was my turn the head clerk says, in a business-like way –
“Well, quick! Where are you from?”
“San Francisco,” says I.
“San Fran – WHAT?” says he.
He scratched his head and looked puzzled, then he says –
“Is it a planet?”
By George, Peters, think of it! “PLANET?” says I; “it’s a city. And moreover, it’s one of the biggest and finest and – ”
“There, there!” says he, “no time here for conversation. We don’t deal in cities here. Where are you from in a GENERAL way?”
“Oh,” I says, “I beg your pardon. Put me down for California.”
I had him AGAIN, Peters! He puzzled a second, then he says, sharp and irritable –
“I don’t know any such planet – is it a constellation?”
“Oh, my goodness!” says I. “Constellation, says you? No – it’s a State.”
“Man, we don’t deal in States here. WILL you tell me where you are from IN GENERAL – AT LARGE, don’t you understand?”
“Oh, now I get your idea,” I says. “I’m from America, – the United
States of America.”
Peters, do you know I had him AGAIN? If I hadn’t I’m a clam! His face was as blank as a target after a militia shooting-match. He turned to an under clerk and says –
“Where is America? WHAT is America?”
The under clerk answered up prompt and says –
“There ain’t any such orb.”
“ORB?” says I. “Why, what are you talking about, young man? It ain’t an orb; it’s a country; it’s a continent. Columbus discovered it; I reckon likely you’ve heard of HIM, anyway. America – why, sir, America – ”
“Silence!” says the head clerk. “Once for all, where – are – you – FROM?”
“Well,” says I, “I don’t know anything more to say – unless I lump things, and just say I’m from the world.”
“Ah,” says he, brightening up, “now that’s something like! WHAT world?”
Peters, he had ME, that time. I looked at him, puzzled, he looked at me, worried. Then he burst out –
“Come, come, what world?”
Says I, “Why, THE world, of course.”
“THE world!” he says. “H’m! there’s billions of them! . . . Next!”
That meant for me to stand aside. I done so, and a sky-blue man with seven heads and only one leg hopped into my place. I took a walk. It just occurred to me, then, that all the myriads I had seen swarming to that gate, up to this time, were just like that creature. I tried to run across somebody I was acquainted with, but they were out of acquaintances of mine just then. So I thought the thing all over and finally sidled back there pretty meek and feeling rather stumped, as you may say.
“Well?” said the head clerk.
“Well, sir,” I says, pretty humble, “I don’t seem to make out which world it is I’m from. But you may know it from this – it’s the one the Saviour saved.”
He bent his head at the Name. Then he says, gently –
“The worlds He has saved are like to the gates of heaven in number – none can count them. What astronomical system is your world in? – perhaps that may assist.”
“It’s the one that has the sun in it – and the moon – and Mars” – he shook his head at each name – hadn’t ever heard of them, you see – “and Neptune – and Uranus – and Jupiter – ”
“Hold on!” says he – “hold on a minute! Jupiter . . . Jupiter . . . Seems to me we had a man from there eight or nine hundred years ago – but people from that system very seldom enter by this gate.” All of a sudden he begun to look me so straight in the eye that I thought he was going to bore through me. Then he says, very deliberate, “Did you come STRAIGHT HERE from your system?”
As with just about everything Mark Twain wrote, particularly – in my mind – his short stories, it’s worth a read. In this one, he pretty deftly skewers the cartoon version of heaven that seems to have currency among the rank and file, if not the deep thinkers.