\The Road to Heaven and Hell
A Métis Folk-Tale with some Christian roots.
A man and his favourite dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead.
He remembered dying, and that the dog walking beside him had died many years earlier. He wondered where the road was leading them.
After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road. It looked like really fine marble. As the road reached the top of a long hill, the wall was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight. When he reached the arch, he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked like mother of pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold.
He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side. When he was close enough, he called out, “Excuse me, where are we?”
“This is Heaven, sir,” the man answered.
“Wow! Would you happen to have some water?” the man asked.
“Of course, sir. Come right in, and I’ll have some ice water brought right up.” The man gestured, and the gate began to open.
“Can my friend,” gesturing toward his dog, “come in, too?” the traveler asked.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t accept pets.”
The man thought a moment, then he turned back to the road and continued the way he had been going with the dog.
After another hour’s walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road which led through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed. There was no fence. As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book.
“Excuse me!” he called to the reader. “Do you have any water?”
“Yeah, sure, there’s a pump over there.” The man extended his nail-scarred hands in greeting and pointed to a place that couldn’t be seen from outside the gate. “Come on in.”
“How about my friend here?” the traveler gestured to the dog.
“There should be a bowl by the pump.”
They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it. The traveller filled the bowl and took a long drink himself, then he gave some to the dog.
When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree waiting for them.
“What do you call this place?” the traveller asked.
“This is Heaven,” was the answer.
“Well, that’s confusing,” the traveller said. “The man down the road said that was Heaven, too.”
“Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That’s Hell.”
“Doesn’t it make you mad for them to use your name like that?”
“No. I can see how you might think so, but we’re just happy that they screen out the folks who’ll leave their best friends behind.”
— received from the Port Alberni Métis Association
There are four Classic Virtues: Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance and Justice; and three “Theological Virtues”: Faith, Hope, and Charity. The most important virtue missing from both lists is Fidelity; and this is my favorite Métis story probably because it is a Fidelity story. After nearly five decades as a sociologist (B.A. 1963, Ph.D. 1966), my educated opinion is that a society lacking in any of the Classic Virtues, or Charity, or Fidelity, cannot long endure. (Faith and Hope are good for a society; i am not sure if they be essential.)
Recent linguistic research on chimpanzees has determined, “… that chimpanzees are smart enough to recognize the meanings of some signs, but they are not cooperative enough to use language. That principle forms the basic thinking of contemporary research into language origins: When the human lineage became cooperative it already had the intellect to use words at the level of a two-year-old. That was enough to get our ancestors started talking; from then on they went down a new path.” (Bolles, 2011) Our intelligence and our human distinctiveness depend on language—which comes from and whose development depended upon—co-operation. It is worth mentioning, that my best dogs have all been able to understand 100 words or more, perhaps as many as 1000—they cannot speak with the mouths and throats they have, they cannot utter “sign language” with the paws they have; but they can understand about as well as Bolles says chimps can, though “conventional wisdom” says that chimps are more intelligent overall.
When men hunted and women gathered, as our human nature was forming, fidelity to the hunting team was essential, or as i wrote in a recent post, “… when societies stand on strong philosophical foundations, keeping promises one might more wisely not have made, is an honourable duty: Those who live well while keeping such promises are heroes; those who fail while keeping such promises are tragic heroes; those who evade their promises are unworthy of further trust.” That old cliché “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” might more accurately be written “The road to Hell is paved with broken faith”. In that sense of the word, faith too is essential to societal health—and close to being a synonym of fidelity.
Fidelity is a canine virtue, but not a feline. Men stereotypically have more affinity for dogs; women, for cats. Perhaps there is a clue here, to choosing a wife if you dare to marry in these times. Choose one who loves dogs better than cats—and substantially for their fidelity.
Finally—will we indeed have dogs in Heaven? I cannot tell you for sure; but i do notice that the best dogs, like the best men, have the four Cardinal Virtues, the three “Theological Virtues”—and on average, are if anything stronger in fidelity than we humans, even we male humans*. In this case, we should learn from them rather than try to make them more like us.
(reflection © 2013, Davd)
* cf. Mowat, Farley, 1963. Never Cry Wolf. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart