Gateway to Heaven

A vision of my backyard. From above, you can see that there are trees aligned in an imperfect square around the five acres of my family’s yard. We had a big white house in the middle, and a pond behind that. A playhouse next to the pond along with a garden, shed and a volleyball net. And lastly, the most prominent part of my childhood: the swing set.

As a young girl I spent every chance I could had outdoors. It didn’t matter if it was in my playhouse, by the pond or over at the fireplace. I didn’t care if I was alone or if my siblings joined me or if it was for only 10 minutes. No matter where I was out there, it felt like home which makes sense because it was home to me. Outside felt, at times, more welcoming than my house. Maybe it was because of the animals I saw, or the sounds I heard: chirping, movement of water, tractors. My soul has always been drawn to the outdoors. And in my backyard, the swing set was the magnet.

My playground was equipped with a climbing wall, monkey bars, and a swing set. I favored the swings over everything else because it required little to no thinking to get high up into the air. I also didn’t have to concentrate on swinging, so I could spend all my time focusing on my thoughts rather than the way my body was moving. For example, thoughts about my favorite teachers and classes, what art project I was going to do that day, or what we were going to eat for supper.

This swing set was my favorite escape. It was far enough from the house that I could feel independent but close enough that I didn’t feel deserted. And now, if it’s windy out, all I have to do is close my eyes and I can pretend I’m on the swing again. Not worrying about my job, or college for that tiny moment. I can just picture happily going back and forth, considering life’s questions.

As I did at times have short-term thoughts and ideas while swinging on that green swing, I didn’t always think about the things that one may consider normal for a young child. Sometimes I’d think about what my favorite things about myself were, or what I liked the least. I do know that my favorite thing to think about was and still is the idea of death. Not because I’m enamored with death or I can’t wait to die but because I’m intrigued with the fact that dying makes us human yet no one wants it to happen to them. Ever since I was a kid I was terrified of death and still am. I thought often about life and death but what I remember most was debating the existence of heaven.

It was recently after my great grandfather Rodney had passed away. He died five years after his wife, Gertie, and hers was my first experience with death. I was five when she died and ten when Rodney was called to heaven. I still ponder the existence of heaven but this one day in in particular, I believed more than usual.

It was a cloudy day in the spring, but the sun still shown beautifully through the seemingly gloomy white clouds. The grass was green, the birds were chirping and I could hear the sound of the water moving in the pond. I was swinging back and forth when I found myself thinking of Rod and Gertie. My mother always told me that seeing the sun shine through the clouds in a ray of light was an angel up in heaven pushing through the clouds to check up on their loved ones.

I saw the sun shining bright through a hole in the clouds and was convinced that it was the two of them checking up on me. I thought to myself, is heaven really that bad that they keep looking down to earth to stare at me? I then began to think of all the things they could be doing up there. Cooking new foods, singing, dancing. I liked thinking about them dancing. I would get whisked away from the green creaking swing and up into the skies to watch them perform dances for me. I tried to swing high enough to reach the sky. Each time I went up felt like another step closer to them. As this day passed, and eventually a few more, the idea of my grandparents in heaven and heaven in general stuck in my head. At times I think this is a little strange for a child to think about, but to this day I’m comforted by the images of the angels in heaven dancing and having a good time.

Whether heaven is real or not, or whether angels exist, I may never know. I do know however that something like a swing, to make you feel like you can be lifted up to be a bit closer to the sky is freeing. It opens up the idea of a whole other world. And I still am in love with swings.

Now that I’m older, I take advantage of every opportunity I have to go outside. Most recently, I was dog sitting for my boss. He has a huge backyard with a beautiful Iowan landscape: trees, small hills, and fields. All day long I let the dog, Rudi, run around outside so I had an excuse to sit on the porch and just be. I walked around the porch until I stepped on a creaky board of wood. At that moment I froze. It sounded exactly like my swing set at home.

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