Opinion: Heaven can wait?


We learn from the earliest stages of our corporal existence that we are born obligated with choice. The youngest among us evaluates with discerning palate between creamed carrot and pureed meat. Even as the tiny jars appear identical and Mom’s encouraging airplane-spoon-trick urges the tyke to eat, they decide, with some indignity, what to ingest.

As we mature, the thought experiments begin, and by elementary school we might deliberate if we’d rather eat a bug or have a pop quiz in math. By high school, we ponder skipping the prom or going with our best friend’s sister, who pities our date-lessness. Today, we ruminate on sitting in cheap seats versus staying home to watch on television. Mostly, they are imagined alternatives. The teacher is unlikely to cancel the test even if the insect consumed is of considerable heft. Yet the questions help us define our own limits. They bound what we might do for opportunity, for options, for hope.

In a group of first-generation Americans recently talking about their origin story to join Team USA, one Central African told of the question often asked of youngsters in his hometown, now some 8,000 miles away: “Would you rather go to heaven or America?” As if his sitting in the room didn’t make the response self-evident, someone asked how he responded. “Well,” he said, “heaven can wait.”

A wise person once proclaimed America “the world’s migration to freedom.” The very prospect of gaining command of English, securing passage and bringing all that he had in himself to contribute to this place was enough to propel and imbed a young African here in the Hoosier heartland. This would be a better place, and for living here, he would be a better person. It may not be the story for all, but it is his story.