A View from Another Heaven
We on earth navigate by the stars, so it is no wonder we have gone so far off coursesince we have never seen more than a fragment of Heaven. Our knowledge of Hell is more detailed, and at least of certain regions, even thorough; we have spent so much more of our time and resources on the exploration of Hell. Hell is a much easier object of study; though it has endless variations, its nature is repetitive and unchanging. The stories of the damned told there all end the same way.
Heaven, by contrast, is infinite in a different way, endlessly reconceiving itself as the ocean does. In Heaven, the equinoxes shift; even the pole stars change places, changing what we trust and rely on, believe, what we are sure we know. You look and see, as you expect to, Polaris, now the North Star, the certainty of Heaven; but the brilliant Thuban, five thousand years ago, was once the pole star. At the time the pyramids were built, Thuban was the star that oriented us, and composed in Heaven our sense of where we were.
We can never stop searching for Heaven, since there is always more of it than we can see. There, as in those tales that evolve endlessly into other tales, stories have no end. They are hardly ever the stories you know, the official ones, in which wishes are made formal, then legislated and enforced as matters of life or death. They are more often the stories we didn't hear, or wouldn't believe, told by the person we ignored, the house that was razed, the choir of dry bones. The scholars of Heaven read and study the vast collection of ashes, books from the torched libraries.
Heaven is not to be confused with Paradise; I had so little time in Paradise that I cannot tell you much about it. What I know of Paradise, I know through men. But Heaven is my home, and there are things about it I will always remember, however far away from it I am now. That is why I can tell you that I have seen more than I imagined was there, even though I, too, have seen only a fraction of what exists.
The first Heaven I knew is the one we all know, the one with the constellations we have been taught to see. The sky we have inherited is a sort of celestial attic of the imagination. It contains a razor, fisher's nets, a tennis racket, and a Polish king's shield, among much other rubbish.
It is peopled with the violent and the anguished, warriors, archers, and weeping women. It is not a place for pardon or repentance, as the gods often placed glittering killers in sight of their glittering perpetual victims, so that there was no way for anyone to find a new relationship to anyone else. Little Ganymede, who had been abducted, shivered forever near the eagle that had seized him and brought him here. This was known as immortality. Many were there because they lived tragedies so unbearable that their suffering would have destroyed the earth if they had not been transported into Heaven.
For the gods of that Heaven had only two powers with regard to suffering. They could inflict it, often tormenting humans as proxy for their private quarrels. Many of the glowing creatures you see in Heaven are set there by way of reward for killing a human on behalf of a God, such as the Scorpion, whom I always avoided. Others are positioned there from petty divine spite, like the Crab, set there to taunt a goddess who tried and failed to have it kill a hero favored by her husband.
Some pulse with the implacable stellar reminder of the defeat of a passionate human desire. Lyra is the instrument that belonged to Orpheus, who descended to Hell for his bride, and failed to bring her out of it, despite his great love. The one inhabitant of Heaven I truly loved, Ophiuchus the Snake-Tamer, the great doctor who discovered how to resurrect humans, was killed at the request of the God of the Dead. It was a political assassinationthe God of the Dead was protecting his borough. Ophiuchus was one of the few Heaven Dwellers who was still concerned with mortals; he trembled, sparkling with the agony of his pent-up will to heal them, but was thwarted by the gods' other power over suffering.
Excerpted from The Book of Heaven by Patricia Storace. Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Storace. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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