A memory from the pre-life (not a tax story)

Leonora Carrington — Figuras fantásticas a caballo, 2011

Everything was quiet. Just ahead of me, angels were handing out forms to throngs of people as they filtered onto the cloud top.

On my lap was a carefully-typed paper, slightly luminous, with a list of questions:

Have you been good in this lifetime?

(rate yourself out of 10)

How many addictions or temptations were you able (with difficulty) to overcome in the course of your life?

  • None
  • 1–2
  • 3+

Have you forgiven yourself for that really big mistake you made, and all the other ones too?

  • Totally
  • Not at all
  • Working on it
  • I don’t know what you’re talking about

How kind have you been — to yourself and others?

(rate yourself out of 100)

Finally, where should we put you?

  • Heaven
  • Hell
  • Earth
  • Purgatory

My pen hovered over the page. “Isn’t someone else supposed to do this?” I thought. But the thought floated uselessly in space, unable to connect with any other part of my brain. I filled in the paper, stood up, and waited in line behind a row of other souls to hand it in. I was pleased with my answers — although nervous to find out if I’d got them right. Especially the bit about Heaven.

We inched forward, one by one, until I found myself bathed in an opal light.

“Form please”

The angel, on whose features I could not focus without squinting, took my paper and gently confiscated my pencil. He thanked me, screwed up the paper and tossed it in a garbage can next to his desk. “Where would you like to go?” he asked.

“What about my paper?” I said. “Aren’t you going to tell me how I’ve done?”

“Heaven? Hell? Earth? Purgatory?” the angel prompted.

I tried to make the word Heaven with my mouth, but it wouldn’t come out. Suddenly my words were living things, with a will of their own. The angel waited. I was aware of a million other souls behind me.

“I think Earth,” I said. “Realistically.”

“Great,” said the angel. “Down you go.”

He waved me towards the back, where another angel instructed me to lie down on a mattress. Then I slid backwards through a dark void.

I don’t remember anything else.


Laurence Shorter is author of The Optimist: One Man’s Search for the Brighter Side of Life (2009) and The Lazy Guru’s Guide to Life.

Author of The Optimist and The Lazy Guru’s Guide to Life; seeker, speaker, coach