Heaven, Does it Exist?
Words and Photographs by Amanda Kiplinger
Every form of religion describes a “heaven” and an almighty, all powerful creator, whether it’s God, Johova or Allah. There are, of course, varying stories, lessons, and rituals, but they all believe in one certainty: Once our physical bodies die, our soul, our core being travels to a better place. I’m not a devoutly religious person. In my youth I attended a Christian church, however, I never received the answers I to my questions. In fact, I ended up with more questions. It wasn’t until I began traveling throughout the United States, witnessing some of the most “heavenly” sights that a few of my questions were answered.
My journey began with a question, “Why?” Why did my grandmother have to die? At the age of five my grandmother died of a pulmonary embolism. She was sick for a while, but being only five, I thought she would get better. When her death came, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember like it was yesterday. My mother sat my sister and I down in our kitchen and explained that my grandma had been sick for so long (she had other health issues as well) that her body finally gave out. She continued by saying that our grandma was such a good person that her soul was going to heaven. My five year old mind thought of heaven as being in the sky, with clouds, pearly gates and gold covered streets. I envisioned my grandmother being reunited with the grandfather I never met. Throughout my young life I thought of my grandmother often, knowing she was happy with my grandfather in heaven.
Entering young adulthood, I began questioning the idea of heaven, maybe there isn’t a heaven. Crossing my mind over the years I often thought that maybe we humans made up heaven to justify all the trials and tribulations of life. After all, with the pain, good times and bad, suffering everything we humans battle our entire lives for what? To die without any kind of reward? Then comes the next questions; “Do we really deserve a reward?” Who says we are entitled to a reward? May be we should just live our lives the best that we can, living productive, honest lives and then our life ends. Plain and simple.
It’s amazing how growing older changes your perspective on things. Well, that and experiencing life first hand. After I gave birth to our daughter, my husband and I began taking “working” vacations. I enjoy make landscape photographs. Over the years we have traveled literally from one coast to the other and everywhere in between and I began noticing something pretty consistent. Surrounded by nature, such as the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, the granite formations of Yosemite, the waterfalls of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the geysers of Yellowstone and the ancient glaciers of Glacier National Park, all of these beautiful natural wonders weren’t created by man, but by something else much more powerful whether it’s God, Mother Nature, or just the natural forces of the earth.
Recently my family and I traveled to Glacier National Park. It was a chilly Thursday morning. We woke up early, the sun just starting to peek over the mountains. Staying close to the Lake McDonald region, we decided we’d begin our adventure there. Arriving just in time for the golden morning sun shining on the mountains I began setting up my photographic equipment. The lake was as smooth as glass with thin wispy clouds slightly obscuring the mountains. Focusing on the landscape before me I noticed the air was crisp and clean; some of the cleanest air my lungs have ever felt. The only sounds were of my daughter and myself’s breathing and the birds singing their early morning songs. Looking over at my daughter I said to her “This is my heaven.” A thought occurred to me at the exact moment. May be heaven is Glacier National Park, maybe it’s the Tetons, or maybe it’s in my own backyard. Maybe we make our own heaven. Yes, heaven is what we make it, may be when we die we travel to a place we love. Lots and lots of may be’s.
The average life span for an American woman is seventy-eight years, so theoretically I’m over halfway through my life. I’m still grappling with the idea of heaven. As my mom says “No one has come back to tell us whether there’s a heaven or not.” (Although there have been documented cases of near death experiences, people experiencing both heaven and hell.) I continue my journey, as does every human being is, understanding that someday, I, as all of you, will receive the answer. Let’s just hope it’s later rather than sooner.