“Where do animals go?” That was one of the main questions I asked when I was a child, “Do they go to heaven too?”
I asked the same question over and over. I asked my Grandmother, the priest in church, the nuns in school and I never got an answer that I was willing to accept.
“Animals don’t have souls,” that’s what they said and I tried to understand. “How do you know that?” It just didn’t make any sense to me. “How do you know I have one?”
I must have driven the people around me mad with my questions. I loved animals all my life. I grew up on a farm with cows, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits and one horse. We had a family dog and many cats who were responsible for the barn mice.
I know we butchered cows and pigs. I saw chickens run around with their head cut off, before they ended up on our dinner table. I didn’t have a problem with it, it was part of our everyday life. We took good care of all the animals, they had a wonderful life until, well until we decided it was time to part.
I loved Nicky our farm dog. He was always around me, we played hard and I smuggled him in my bedroom, when I was at home from school. “Dogs don’t sleep in our bedrooms,” said my Grandma and I nodded. I waited a while and then I tiptoed down and got Nicky.
We dug a hole under a tree when he died and that’s when I asked the question again. “Where do animals go when they die?”
The Catholic Church was very clear about it. No soul – No heaven!
All of a sudden heaven didn’t sound so attractive anymore. Animals were my friends and I wanted to be were my friends would go. I didn’t discuss this matter any further, but I had made up my mind. I would not go to heaven.
The nuns in school almost fainted when I told them about my decision. I got grounded for a few days and had to spend the afternoon alone in the classroom and wasn’t allowed to play outside.
I looked outside the window and could see the other kids having fun. I didn’t like that at all. I was stuck inside, while they had fun. All that just because I didn’t want to go to heaven! Life just wasn’t fair.
“Not wanting to go to heaven is a sin,” they told me and I didn’t understand that either. How can not wanting something be a sin?
Friday came, we all went home and I had mixed feelings about it. I had a note in my backpack that my Grandmother had to sign. I didn’t know what it said, but I had a feeling it wasn’t good at all.
I didn’t give it to her right away, I waited until Sunday in the afternoon, right before I had to go back to boarding school.
My Grandmother read the note and looked at me long and hard, “So you don’t want to go to Heaven?”
I didn’t say anything, just stood there and looked at my shoes. I knew I was in trouble, “I am not going to Heaven if there are no animals,” I mumbled.
“Where do you want to go then?” she asked and I just shrugged my shoulders. That part I hadn’t figured out yet, I just knew that heaven was not the place for me.
My Grandma looked at me and left the room. Then she came back and gave me the signed note. She didn’t say anything else.
I never understood that. I thought I would get the worst spanking ever and nothing happened. 2 weeks later, when I went back home I was still nervous; she never said anything about it until I was older.
Then she finally told me that she had to leave the room, because she couldn’t hold back laughter.
“There you were serious as you could be, telling everybody around you that heaven was just not an option for you,” she thought that was the funniest thing she had ever witnessed.
Interesting enough, the nuns left me alone as well. I don’t know why, but I think they just didn’t know what to do with me.
I had forgotten all about it until today, when I read this little poem. It made me laugh out loud.
“If there is no God for thee,
Then there is no God for me.”
Anna Hempstead Branch