A man died and found himself before the gates of heaven. He was relieved. But curious. So he asked the gatekeeper, “I was just wondering if it would be possible to see Hell before entering Heaven?” “Well, no one has ever asked such a thing before. But why not? Let’s go,” said the gatekeeper and in a flash they stood before the gates of Hell. The gates opened and there before their eyes was an endless table. On it was piled the most amazing and abundant array of food, drink, dessert. Every imaginable delicacy was to be seen. As soon as the man thought of a food he noticed it somewhere on the table. And along both sides of the table were seated people as far as the eye could see. He turned to the gatekeeper asking, “This is Hell?” “Look again,” he was told. He did so and saw that each person had four-foot wooden spoons attached to their wrists and elbows. So no matter how hard they tried they could not bring the food to their mouths. “Ah, yes,” said the man. “This is Hell. I am ready to enter heaven.” In a flash he was once again before the gates of heaven. They opened and he was surprised to see an endless table heaped with the same abundance of wonderful food and drink he had just seen in Hell. On each side of the table for as far as the eye could see were seated people with four-foot wooden spoons attached to their wrists and elbows just as he had seen only moments before in Hell. “This is Heaven?” asked the man of the gatekeeper. “Look again,” said the gatekeeper. And he did. Now he saw that all the people seated at one side of the table were using their four-foot spoons to feed everyone on the other side of the table. “Ah, now I see,” said the man. “This is heaven.”
This story has been making the rounds for quite a while and i have come across many versions including, recently, an animated version you can probably find on YouTube. As always, these stories that i have known for many years continue to reveal new meanings. Having recently re-read Victor Frankl's work and having just read several memoirs (Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy If You Could Be Normal; Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle); and re-read several others (Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby and Mary Karr's The Liar's Club) i am reminded of our power (and responsibility?) to make meaning out of whatever we confront.