Most of us have a strong religious bent which only gets worse with age. As the wrinkles deepen, as the illnesses become chronic and as friends begin to die off one by one we, the aged, begin to dwell upon the only question that matters: “Am I making the most of my life here on earth?”
The great religions suggest that if you behave and are kind you shall find your reward in the afterlife which they call heaven. But honestly, do we really have to wait until we die to enjoy heaven? Dante was consumed with the idea of heaven. When he wrote “The Divine Comedy” in 1320 he described himself at midlife as depressed, lost in the woods and hoping for divine deliverance.
Of course, if you’re up on your reading you know that Virgil gave him the grim truth that in order to find heaven you must first go through hell and purgatory. This was upsetting news indeed but Dante had no choice but to follow Virgil down through all nine circles of hell in order to trudge back up through purgatory and finally get to heaven.
Dante described heaven as “Paradiso” whereupon he achieved prudence, fortitude, justice, temperance, faith, hope and love.
Although I’m not a strong believer in religion I do admire the tenets of fortitude, hope and love. Well, let’s all shout halleluiah because just last week I found heaven right here. Wasn’t Jesus who said, “The kingdom of heaven is all around you.” Yes, it is and it’s on a little island just offshore.
Here is how I discovered Bermuda. Many years ago I had the good fortune to meet John Mariani, Jr. who owns Villa Banfi Wineries, the international wine distributors with headquarters in Old Brookville and wine vineyards throughout Tuscany.
Shortly after I met John he and his wife moved to Bermuda and always told me I was welcome to visit anytime I wanted.
I’m a slow learner, have enormous Catholic guilt and also tend to avoid happiness so it took me about twenty years to take him up on the invite. But last week I took the plunge and booked the flight to Bermuda.
I was filled with anxiety given the questionable weather in Bermuda this time of year but I was emboldened by the fact that my wife tends to bring sunshine wherever she goes and thus with fingers crossed, off we flew.
We booked a suite at the Rosewood Hotel in Tucker’s Town since it was next to John’s home and in walking distance to Mid Ocean Club. And much like “The Divine Comedy” getting there was like a living hell.
How is it possible to experience stop and go traffic at 6:15 a.m. on a Monday morning on the Belt Parkway? It felt like the upper circles of hell may be due to all my past failures in the areas of lust, gluttony, avarice and wrath.
At any rate, we sweated our way through and then endured the purgatory of Kennedy Airport for another two hours. I cannot recall a trip I made where I didn’t say to myself “That’s it. This is the last time I travel. Never again will I put myself through this hell.”
But somehow and some way we made it to the plane on time and arrived in Bermuda 2 hours later. Now let me fast forward to that same afternoon.
After settling into our suite we got in our little golf cart and headed down to the Rosewood Beach Club. We passed by the rolling fairways of Mid Ocean Golf Club and pulled our cart into the parking lot of the beach club.
We got out of the cart and walked along the grass, sat down on the edge of the beach, dug our feet into the sand and looked out onto the ocean. I have seen many many beautiful things in this world including the Champs Elysees in Paris, Lake Como in Northern Italy and astounding views from the cliffs of Capri.
But when we sat down and looked at this little cove in Bermuda I immediately said to my wife “If heaven exists it is going to look exactly like this.”
The temperature was 70 degrees, there was a very faint breeze coming off the water. There were some white clouds in the distance that set the blue sky off perfectly.
There were waves gently crashing on the sand and little cove was bracketed by cliffs on either side of us. The ocean had a variety of shades of blue ranging from dark blue in the distance to very light azure blue near the shore.
The sand was something I have never felt before. To call this ‘pink sand’ was to trivialize it. It was like some kind of perfectly milled powder that God had manufactured in order to remove all the shells and stones and to make it a delight to walk on.
Behind us was the five-star restaurant where you could hear the clinking of expensive glasses and the soft chatter and laughter of very happy people. I had finally arrived in heaven.
That is how I came to the answer to that question we wonder about as we age. Am I living my life fully and completely? To experience the glorious white sand beaches of Bermuda, sipping a lemonade, listening to the waves come in and seeing the beautiful face of my wife smiling at me is living well indeed. This is as good as it gets and better yet it’s only a two-hour plane ride away.
Many thanks to John Mariani, Jr. for leading me to heaven right here on earth. Let’s call John a modern-day version of Virgil.