What does Heaven mean to each of us? A state of mind, a physical place, an ends to a means, an eternal reward... July 22nd was my Mom's birthday, or would have been, how does that go? When a person dies before their time do they still get a birthday? Only those of us left behind experience the date and internalize it along with the list of other moments never to be lived.
When a loved one passes we placate ourselves with children's tales of Angels watching over us, although the Bible specifically lists Angels as uniquely created individual entities, and tells of a sleep to be had by us all between our final breath and the day of Judgement. No mention of magical dead people capable of hearing prayers as demi-Gods. As a non Christian I am free to create my own platitudes, but bristle at the hypocrisy of denying Christ(ianity) while simultaneously subscribing to random New Age mythology. It is religion I avoid, not God, so how do I rectify my spiritual needs without being guilty of writing my own religion?
Religion is a boundary Mankind relies on to enforce the moral restrictions we place on ourselves while meeting our innate need for an understanding of our existence. God must exist because we have a need for Him. Our relationships with God are as necessary and inborn to us as verbal communication. Verbal reasoning is proof of the existence of speech, as theology is proof of God. Just as there are a multitude of languages, each providing the necessary dialogue within its cultural context, there are a myriad of religions, each independently capable of religious satisfaction.
If each of these religions explains Death in it's own way, how are we to know which is correct, and who are any of we to call any of these incorrect? So if we take the religion out of Death we are left with only God, and in most major religions God has a place of existence beyond the physical realms of Earth. While some may be pantheistic there is still a common consensus among many major beliefs that this place, what I can only call Heaven within the confines of my own American cultural context, is the final resting place for those who have lived a decent life. Even the ultimate destination of reincarnation is to attain a level of wisdom as to escape the mortal coil and be released to another plane of existence, and is governed by the nature of our actions.
So we can justify a belief that only the good survive, in at least a metaphysical form, without sacrificing our spiritual independence or subscribing to a dogma that assaults our common sense.
When I ran those 13 foggy miles in San Francisco on Sunday I had scrawled "For Mom in Heaven" in sharpie on my arm. I can still see the remnants of ink stained skin. As I stepped off the Golden Gate bridge, which I had passed under by boat with my Mom as a child, I mentally whispered Happy Birthday Mommy. While I intellectually am aware that my Mom's soul exists somewhere far away, it warmed me to think that somehow, someway, she knew. Regardless of her place in Heaven, I know without a doubt she exists in my heart. As sappy and self gratifying as that belief may be I hold onto it in all the moments my soul aches for hers. I guess that is what makes me human.
(and yes, I originally spelled Heaven wrong and had to fix it, it was 4am and sharpies don't have spellcheck.)