And so the time came. After many, many years, the final closure was at hand. It had been a long and sometimes difficult journey but she had accomplished much in her lifetime. A lot to be proud of. And now as she lay in hospital, what she thought was an angel appeared beside her and whispered in her ear that it was time to go, time to move on. One final breath and her consciousness ascended up and out through the crown of her head. Her body took on a filmic and transparent quality. All around her was darkness. She floated upward through a vast ocean of darkness, of emptiness. She noticed, however, that although her body was light, there was a large steamer trunk tethered to her waist, held there by a heavy metal chain.
Nevertheless, she eventually landed on a cement platform in front of a large pearly gate. “Ah,” she thought. She had arrived at her final destination. But there was no one there to greet her. When she tried to reach for the doorbell, she noticed that she was still slightly tipsy from her last few drinks of sherry. She managed to push it but then had difficulty standing up again. She kept pressing it until finally a tall man in white robes showed up outside the gate.
“Hello. My name is Peter. Saint Peter. How can I help you?”
“Well Peter or whoever you are, I am Dr. Maya Angelou and I was invited up here to the Kingdom of Heaven. Now let me in.”
Peter smiled in amusement. “Look here Marguerite, we know who you are and you have got your nerve showing up here with that mess hanging from your waist, alcohol on your breath, not to mention all the singing and swinging and getting merry like Christmas you been doing all of your years! And besides being tore up, you don’t even have shoes on your feet. Everybody knows that all God’s children need traveling shoes.”
And with that, the sky roared with thunder and lightning. Dr. Angelou’s eyes grew with anger. “Clearly you don’t know who I am. I have honorary degrees, sold millions of copies of my books, am a role model, and did you see me deliver the inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton? I was invited up here and now you trying to keep me out?” Looking down at her wrist, she found a large ring of keys. “I’ll just have to let myself in,” she said. Peter folded his arms across his chest and smiled. Dr. Angelou tried every key she had in the padlock on the gate. Not only did the keys not work, but each wrong attempt made the padlock increase in size.
“Look Marguerite, I’ve got other business to attend to, so why don’t you do yourself a favor and go over to that bench there on the other side of the Eightfold Path and sleep it off. That tree gives a fine shade. Come back when you’ve got yourself together.” Peter then disappeared.
A visibly weary Dr. Angelou dragged herself and the trunk still chained to her waist over to the bench and laid down. When next she knew, she was awakened by the sound of someone calling her name. “Marguerite, Marguerite Johnson is that you? Well I’ll be a bodhisattva, it is you. What are you doing in these parts? Not every day you get a spot under the Bodhi tree. They say it gives a fine shade.”
Dr. Angelou opened her eyes and sat upright. She could hardly believe that the short, bald man in monk’s robes would know her name. “Oh, you don’t remember me? I’m Buddy Jones. We grew up together back in the old neighborhood. I know I look different now, but hey—what’s up with you?”
Dr. Angelou saw no harm in telling him her dilemma. “Well Buddy, as a matter of fact, I came up here to go to the Kingdom of Heaven but I couldn’t get the gate open and that ridiculous man Peter was giving me a hard time.”
Buddy listened attentively. He looked her over and asked about the trunk tied to her waist: “Marguerite, what on earth is that?”
She had momentarily forgotten about the trunk. “Oh, I have no idea, but I think it’s my stuff. It most certainly must belong to me.”
Buddy sat down on the bench beside her and placed his legs in lotus position. “Hey let me tell you a story,” he said.
“Look Buddy, I got no time for stories. I have to get through those there gates,” she responded.
Buddy nodded. “Just listen to this story. It’s about something called the Four Noble Truths. You can always get up and leave, but just listen awhile.” And so, as the seasons changed, Buddy told his story. By the time he was done, Dr. Angelou had become youthful in appearance and the trunk attached to her waist had dissolved. She stood up and stretched, as if she were awakening from a long, deep hibernation. She marveled at herself and at Buddy’s words. She thanked him and felt ready to enter the Kingdom. She straightened her clothes and walked back to the pearly gates, confident that she had the right key now. But when she tried her key, she realized that there was no lock. Not only was there no lock, but there was no sign of Peter, and no gate, either.