If our loved ones wait for us in heaven, are we also greeted by those we have harmed? December 1st was World AIDS Day, and I couldn’t help but think of over one hundred thousand Americans who died of AIDS during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, while he blamed people for their illness, and lagged on funding to find a cure. With great power comes great responsibility.
While many people were moved by the cartoon by Marshall Ramsey, showing the former president being reunited with Barbara and his little daughter Robin, I started wondering about heaven. At heart, I am a Universalist. I believe that no one goes to hell, that in the end, we are all gathered into the arms of Divine Love. I don’t know what that might look like, exactly, but if we survive beyond death, all of us are gathered together, no one is left out.
But that does raise further questions about harm and punishment, about whether there is any judgement for those who have been truly malicious in this life. I cannot make that kind of judgement about Bush. I don’t know his measure of good or evil. But here is what I imagine. When he arrives at the “gate,” he is greeted by all of those people who died of AIDS. He is greeted by those whose ashes were hurled onto his lawn at the white house by ACT UP on October 11, 1992. He is greeted by the hundred thousand from this country, and the million from all over the world.
In the infinity which is eternity, before he can celebrate with Barbara and Robin, he must sit down with each person who died of AIDS under his watch. He must listen to their stories, get to know who they were: what they loved, what they missed out on, whether they were cared for in the end, or abandoned by family or friends. He must listen to each of those heart-breaking human stories, with no barriers, and let his heart break open. And then, in that place beyond any time, all are gathered into the Everlasting Arms.