Path to heaven

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There once was parking lot with a church on one side and tattered old row houses on the other. Every day, the elderly priest from the church would hobble down with his cane and read the morning paper on a bench there. And every day, a young girl from one of the homes would play hopscotch not far away in the cracked pavement of the lot. Her parents never took her to church but she knew what a priest was and sometimes said hello to the old man.
One day, as she was chewing on her second-last piece of her favorite butterscotch candy, she saw the priest holding his rosary and praying so she walked over and asked a very direct question: “Father, how do you get to heaven?” The priest smiled thoughtfully and said in a soft voice, “Do good deeds but seek no credit.” He could tell the child was confused so he told her this story instead.
Two men stopped at a gas station at exactly the same time on the same night. They both noticed a man in a broken down pickup truck with a child in the front seat. There was faded writing on the truck’s door that said “Yankee Way Paving” although most of the letters were weathered away to the point where you could only make out the Y and A of the word “Yankee” clearly.
The man from the truck approached each driver separately, looked sheepishly toward his own feet, and told them he was out of gas and if they would give him ten dollars he’d pay them back with interest someday. He added that he was a proud man so he hoped they could show discretion and not tell anyone of this act of kindness. Each man looked at the child in the front seat, the stranger’s daughter no doubt, and felt sorry for the guy so they gave him the money and their home address so he could someday pay it back. They also promised to trust him and keep quiet about this act of charity.
A month went by and the first man who lent the money never spoke of it or gave it a second thought. He felt good about what he did and decided if he never saw the money again that was OK.
The second man told several friends how generous he was, almost immediately, and when the money did not show up in the mail got very angry, assuming he’d been tricked. He even tried tracking down this “Yankee Way Paving” to demand his money back. He was furious when he learned there was no such company listed anywhere in the entire state. He kept hoping he’d run into the man again so he could give him a piece of his mind.
Fifty years later on the very same night, both men who lent the money to the stranger at the gas station died. When they arrived at the gates of heaven they saw the same old pickup truck parked out front and the stranger they had helped so long ago was the one who greeted them. He hadn’t aged a bit and looked exactly as he did 50 years ago when he asked them for help. He welcomed the first man, the one who had kept his word and never bragged about what he did that night, and let him in heaven immediately.
The second man hung his head in embarrassment as the man with the pickup truck spoke, “I told you I would repay you and you didn’t believe me.” He continued, “I asked for discretion and you used the act of kindness to puff yourself up.” He told the man to think about what he did for a while and handed him a bucket and sponge. “I’d like you to wash my truck while you sort this out in your head. When the truck is clean I’ll know you understand.”
The first man who had already been let into heaven asked, “Can I help him?” He was told yes and the two of them set out to make the dingy old truck sitting outside heaven’s gate spotless. As they washed the door with the faded lettering on it the second man, the one who had messed up and was not allowed into heaven yet, began to laugh loudly. It was right there the whole time: Y A WAY Paving. “Yahweh” he said. “Yahweh Paving.” “I don’t get it. Ya what?” said the first man. He then explained that Yahweh is the Hebrew word for God. “Wait. So the guy we helped that night was God? Hmm, I thought he’d be taller.” Both men laughed and when the truck was clean they walked into heaven together.
The little girl stared into the old priest’s eyes, pondered his story for a moment, then reached into her pocket and wrapped her tiny fingers around her last piece of candy, handing it to him. “Shh, this is just between us, Father,” she said. And off she went, skipping her way toward heaven.
John Gray is weekly columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at johngray@fox23news.com.

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