“Martin Luther King’s real birthday is in two days,” one child recalled. Then someone asked, “Did the man that shot him die, too?” I told her that the man who shot Dr. King went to jail. Before I could tell the children that James Earl Ray died in jail, LW said, “Bad guys never die. Because they’re still alive in jail.” And, as it so often happens, a conversation began.
AE: It’s really hard to kill [bad guys], because they still have their weapons.
MM: No. The people take them away. Then for the weapon [the bad guys] move side to side when they’re about to shoot them.
Teacher: So people are trying to shoot the bad guys?
AE: So they could die and never kill people again.
MF: Yeah. Like Martin Luther King (was killed).
HG: I wrote that story (the day before) for real life, because bad guys really do die. That’s why I wrote it, as a theory of dying.
LM: I think bad guys die, because they’re like other people, but they just shoot people. But good guys don’t.
EK: I think that the bad guy who shot Martin Luther King is still alive, but he’s just in jail.
Teacher: So do you think bad guys can’t die, or do you think he just hasn’t died yet?
EK: He hasn’t died, but he’s just still in jail, but he will die in a little bit.
MF: I think bad guys die. Everyone dies.
AE: Everyone dies the second minute, so if they have to skip something really dangerous they would die just like Martin Luther King when he was not looking.
Teacher: So if they get near something dangerous they could die, too?
LT: Everybody dies at some point.
Teacher: So you think bad guys die, too?
AM: Yeah. Everyone.
AE: Sometimes when people get really old they go to Heaven. Not just if people die they go up to Heaven and the graveyard. If you get really old you go up to Heaven.
Teacher: You mean even if you’re not dead?
AE: Yeah. And very, very sick. My dog’s up in Heaven.
T: Did your dog die?
AE: No. She was very, very sick.
AM: That’s what happened to my dog. She got very, very sick and she died and she went to Heaven.
Teacher (to the other children): Do you agree with AM that you don’t have to die to go to Heaven?
LM: I think you can’t go to Heaven until you’re a parent.
MM: If you die when you’re a kid you can go to Heaven.
AM: My mommy is still alive. She’s a parent.
LM: When she gets a little older. When she gets past a certain number, then you’ll die.
AE: I know what Heaven looks like, because I saw the movie, “All Dogs Go To Heaven.” Good thing my puppy didn’t die yet because he’s very new. I can’t wait to see what Heaven looks like. Like when they’re up in Heaven when they die or they’re sick they feel better. And then the dead ones come back to live in Heaven, and then the sick ones don’t get sick any more.
AM: Good thing I don’t need to go to Heaven.
LT: We would miss you!
LW: I know what Heaven looks like. It has angels and really, really big clouds, and I saw it on “The Littlest Angel.” And it has a dog in it that’s named Halo, which the angel has a halo, and the dog’s name is Halo. What?!
Who dies? If people who die go to Heaven, what happens to bad guys? Do they just not die? Do you have to be dead to go to Heaven?What is Heaven? So many questions! We revisited the question the next day, when I invited the children to think more about AE’s and LW’s assertions that they know what Heaven is like, because they saw it in movies. “Do you think anyone really knows what Heaven looks like?” I asked. Some of the children doubted that what one sees in movies is real.
I don’t believe in movies, because if it’s just a movie I don’t believe it’s in real life. I don’t believe that’s what Heaven looks like. I think it looks like a building, but with a lot of people in it. But they’re really just dreaming.
I think that some movies are real and some movies aren’t.
I saw a movie that had a person that was a surfer and she got her arm off by a shark, and that movie was real. Some movies aren’t real and some are. I never saw one with Heaven in it.
I watched a movie called Alvin and the Chipmunks. I don’t think it’s real, but I know that chipmunks are real.
…There’s a person in it called Dave, and I don’t think that Dave is really real. He’s just on TV.
I think that chipmunks are real, but they show them talking, and I don’t think that chipmunks can really talk. But I know that Dave’s real. The chipmunks are real, but the story about what happened to them is not real.
People are just acting in the movies.
With “movie Heaven” put aside, the children described their images of Heaven.
It’s very pretty. It’s up in the sky. It’s on the clouds. The big clouds stick together so you can’t see the angels, cause there’s invisible dust on them. The invisible dust looks like sparkles.
LW: I think that Heaven looks beautiful, and it has angels.
AE: Like we were angels in the play.
AE: I think Heaven has lots of diamonds.
LW: God hasn’t gotten diamonds for Heaven yet.
H: Mary (mother of Jesus) lives in Heaven, too. LW didn’t add Mary in the people (LW had listed who she thought was in Heaven).
LW: All right, I’ll put Mary in it.
LM: I think Mary and Joseph are not in Heaven…
AE: But what if they got really old?
LM: But I don’t think they’re in Heaven. I think they’re still in Bethlehem. I don’t think they’re really old now, because they’re still waiting for someone to come.
Teacher: If you’re waiting you don’t get old?
LM: I think that they’re not in Heaven, because they want to wait…they think they’re gonna have a new baby.
AE: But it would take a long time for you to grow up, like all of us are waiting to be 6…it would take a long time for Jesus to grow up. I think Mary and Jesus are telling the angels they don’t want to go [to Heaven] yet.
Later, the children who posed theories in meeting honed them by drawing and then articulating their ideas verbally. And the children who did not pose theories in meeting used drawing to construct them. As you will see, some of the children consider death and Heaven impermanent, which is why children are able to say after they are told a pet or loved one died, “When is he coming back?” I am intrigued by the children’s apparent deep connection to the nativity story; Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are right up there with angels…unless they are still in Bethlehem. Also interesting, I think, is two children’s assertions that Heaven is the same thing as “the world,” perhaps with a significant difference or two.