According to the eponymous hero of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, ‘Life is quite absurd, and death the final word.’
But is it? In this, the last in Gale Acuff’s quartet of Sunday school poems, our ten-year-old theologian certainly has views on this subject, much to the consternation of his teacher. As class is dismissed, and we leave our radical free thinker philosophising upon the nature of existence, we depart wondering – who here really has the Last Word?
I failed a test in Sunday School today
when Miss Hooker asked us to raise our hands
if we want to go to Heaven. She said
Gale, you didn’t raise your hand, and I said
Yes ma’am – I mean No ma’am, I didn’t, and
it’s a fact. My classmates were quiet
for a change so I must’ve done some good.
When Miss Hooker asked me why I declined
I said, Well, because I don’t want to die
at all – I want to live forever. That
broke the silence and some students giggled
and I felt like I was in regular
school again, where there’s no God but still there’s
somebody in charge, the grown-up word is
authority. Poor Miss Hooker – she sighed,
more like moaned, then took off her glasses and
looked out the window and we don’t even
have one in our portable building. Then
she asked me, I guess it was a question,
Don’t you understand that you’ll go to Hell
for wanting to live forever on earth?
But you can live forever in Heaven
if you believe in God and Jesus and
try not to sin. I said, Yes ma’am, I know
the story but I like life here just fine
so I pray every night that God will
make an exception in my case and it’s
in the Bible somewhere that Jesus says
we get what we pray for if two or more
of us pray for it but so far I’m all
alone but if you joined me then maybe
I’ll get what I want. Miss Hooker took off
her glasses again, I guess to see me
better, which is kind of funny and I
would’ve said so but that’s a subject for
regular school, English literature
I guess it is. I’m only ten years old
– the things I don’t know could fill a Bible
or The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
on our coffee table at home. No one
cracks it. Mother’s always dusting it. Gale,
Miss Hooker said, It’s your turn to lead us
all in the Lord’s Prayer, which was a fib
and a fib’s a kind of lie and lying’s
a sin and collect enough sins and then
you’re good for Hell. And it’s not that I don’t
believe but that I object – Miss Hooker
wasn’t ready for that so I didn’t
share it. Instead I stood and bowed my head
and closed my eyes and when we hit Amen
we all said it together like it was
the last word on everything and then
Miss Hooker dismissed us but called me back
so I pretended not to hear, I guess
that’s a kind of a lie, too, and therefore
a sin but I got out of there alive.
At least I think I’m still alive. Maybe
I’m dead and just don’t know it or maybe
I’m dead and I do. Or maybe it’s both.
That’s a little like living forever
except it runs deeper than it runs long.
I’d tell Miss Hooker but she’d moan again.
The other works in Gale Acuff’s Sunday School quartet are Simple, Scram, and Transposed.
‘Comic Boy Oli at School’ by frankes was retrieved from https://openclipart.org/detail/190241/comic-boy-oli-at-school