Once upon a time, there was an enormous mountain, and at the foot of the mountain were several cities. The children of the mountain were taught about the city that they were meant to dwell in, and when the time came, they would go to their cities and make their way to the gates of Heaven.
Among the children, there was a young man named Tim, and Tim had a problem. He had slept all the way through his childhood lessons, so he had no idea how to get to Heaven, or even to which city he belonged.
As he watched the other students going about their business, he tried to follow some of them so that he might figure out where Heaven might be – because that was the goal, after all, of life. (Or that’s what he thought, since he really had been asleep for most of it.)
He followed some of his classmates into a city, and the guard at the gate of the city asked Tim if he lived there. Tim said he didn’t, but he didn’t really live anywhere else, and may he come in, please?
The guard said, “Of course you may! All are welcome! But make sure you follow the rules of the city or you will never be allowed into the inner sanctum at the top of the hill, and you may even get kicked out of the city if you break too many rules.”
“What’s in the inner sanctum?” Tim asked.
“Heaven,” the guard replied.
“Yes, please, I would like to go there!”
The guard gave Tim a funny look, but he handed him the large book of rules and let him enter the city.
All of the rules, however, were difficult for Tim to follow. He did not know how to wear their enormous hats, and he couldn’t tell which day of the week was which for what ritual, and he couldn’t even get the food he wanted when he wanted. He tried to decipher the rules as best he could, but one infraction occurred after another until the guard was forced to remove him from the city.
Tim wandered around the foot of the mountain until he came upon another city. The guard again posed the question as to whether or not Tim lived there, and Tim replied that he did not, but he wanted to enter anyway.
“That’s fine, that’s fine,” the guard said, “but you have to follow the rules.”
Tim had already had a problem with rules.
The guard handed Tim a very small and thin book. ”It’s all in there,” the guard said.
Tim saw the small book and figured that the rules had to be much easier to learn, so he agreed to follow them, and the guard led him inside.
Alas, though there were not many rules, they were very difficult for Tim to follow. He could not stand on one foot as he was supposed to for hours on end, and he found himself getting uncontrollably hungry during the long and frequent fasts. And what was worse was that whenever he failed to follow a rule, all of the people around him would stop talking to him altogether. He became very lonely and sad, and finally he broke one too many rules and the guard escorted him out of the city.
Tim wandered further around the base of the mountain until he found yet another city. Again, he asked the guard if he could enter, and the guard opened the door without hesitation.
“Aren’t there rules?” Tim asked.
“Of course,” the guard replied, “but it’s different for every street.”
“How will I know the rules?” Tim asked.
“There’s a guide at each street. Move along, you’re holding up traffic.”
So, Tim entered the city and tried to make heads or tails of the winding streets and high twisting buildings. He found a street that seemed to lead straight up to the inner sanctum, but the guide who gave him directions led him far astray despite Tim agreeing to wear a strange head wrap. He found himself on another street, and the guide there told him to remove the head wrap – it was offensive – and that instead he should go without a shirt. The guide gave him directions to the inner sanctum, but again he got lost. Another guide found him and told him that being shirtless was offensive and instead he should wear no shoes.
On and on it went with Tim losing this or having to wear that, eating or not eating any given food, and all the time he found he was getting nowhere closer to the sanctum or to Heaven.
Of his own volition, Tim left the city (shy a few articles of clothing) and wandered around the foot of the mountain.
He came to a clearing away from the city and sat down on a log to cry. Try as he might, he could not find the way to Heaven, and he was starting to feel that he never would.
And then, a little girl and her father found him sitting there and asked him why he was crying.
“Because I’m never going to find Heaven,” Tim replied through his nose.
“Oh,” said the man, “but it’s right up there!”
And where he pointed, at the top of the mountain, was the shining entrance to Heaven.
And between Tim and Heaven was a long and impossibly dangerous path up the mountain.
“How many people get there?” Tim asked, feeling now especially forlorn.
“Everyone,” the man replied, “eventually.”
“Oh,” Tim said.
“Can he come back to the village with us?” the little girl asked.
“Of course,” the man said, “if he would like.”
“My mommy is making cookies to have after dinner,” the little girl said to Tim enthusiastically.
“Cookies sound nice,” Tim said, and he followed the man and his daughter back to their village.
The village did not have an inner sanctum the way the other cities did. It did not have walls, and it did not have large tomes of rules – or, really, any rules at all except to be kind to one another. Everyone worked together to gather and prepare food and housing, and after a week, Tim went to the edge of the village and looked up the mountain at Heaven.
He wasn’t sure, but it seemed like it might’ve been just a little bit closer.
Tim returned to the village, and he found himself a house and he made some friends. He found out that he had an especially appreciated gift for making furniture, and he set about also creating a workshop for himself to build things in. This went on for a year, and then one morning, he found himself at the edge of the village again, and again he looked up the mountain at Heaven, and this time there was no mistaking.
It was definitely closer.
It was still a long and arduous path, though, with switch-back paths and prickly thorn bushes. He returned to the village.
In the years that followed, Tim had quite the busy life. He met a wonderful woman, and they had many happy children together. He worked building furniture for the villagers and sometimes helped them fix their houses when the weather caused damage. Every few years, he would check on Heaven, and every time it was closer, until eventually, he got so busy with his kids and grandkids and the vibrant and peaceful life of the village that he forgot to check on Heaven at all.
Many long years into his life, when Tim and his wife were old and venerated in the community, he began to wonder about Heaven again. His grandchildren were grown and had more kids of their own, and his life was happy in every way, and yet his found his mind wandering back to the topic of Heaven. His wife had heard his tales of the search for Heaven before he had arrived in the village, and she had always smiled wisely and said nothing save that everyone got there eventually.
One morning, the thought of Heaven was the first to greet him upon waking and it occupied every moment through breakfast and almost into lunch. As his wife served his noon repast, he ate it thoughtfully, and then he said, “I think today is the day.”
“The day for what, my love?” his wife asked.
“Today is the day that I make the trip up the mountain to Heaven,” he said.
His wife smiled a sad and beautiful smile, and she said, “If that is what you want, my dearest.”
“It has been my life’s dream,” Tim said, “to get to Heaven, and I think that today is the day for it.”
Tim got up from the table and put on his sun hat, and he took up his walking stick, and he put on his best sandals, and he opened the door with a deep breath, ready to take on the trek.
Lo and behold, there was Heaven, right at his door. It had come down the mountain to him, and his wife smiled and nodded and shed a tear, and Tim nodded to her in return, his heart filled with unspeakable amounts of love, and he turned and he walked into Heaven, at last.