We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.
― Baroness Emmuska Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel
As a teenager, a friend and I took great delight in the Scarlet Pimpernel books, a series set during the French Revolution, whose hero was an English fop who had an alter ego called the Scarlet Pimpernel. This “elusive” superman appeared to save the day then vanished, leaving everyone wondering “Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?”
Last night, as I sat in my wheelchair in the nursing home where I have lived since last June, I wondered if I was in heaven. A nurse sat on the floor in front of me trimming my toenails while an aide stood behind me straightening my hair. It felt for all the world like I was at an expensive spa. Living here might not seem like anyone’s idea of heaven, but even the most cynical among us would have to admit that having all your meals provided, cleaning done and laundry taken care of sounds pretty nice.
Even my bodily needs are looked after. I am dressed in the morning, my teeth are brushed, face washed, and make-up applied. I have someone roll me over at night. Treatment fit for a king. Or at least a denizen of Downton Abbey.
But every good thing has its opposite and every heaven, its hell. And for all the wonderfulness of being treated so well are the downsides of this situation. Like my neighbor who will periodically scream “help me!” over and over again. Or me steering my wheelchair carefully around the cluster of women who sit sleeping or slumped over by the nurse’s station for hours. Or me sitting at the table at noon trying to hold a conversation with the other residents at the table who are well-meaning but mostly hard of hearing.
In the end of course, I lie alone in my bed at night and come to the same conclusion that I have arrived at many times before: I am not in heaven nor in hell, but still here on earth and while things could be better they could also be much worse.