It Was My Birthday and All I Could Think of Was the Afterlife…

 A few weeks ago I celebrated the 38th anniversary of my uterine occupation and eventual evacuation. I opted to commemorate the day by recreating the sensation of that scenario with seven very good friends.

No, silly! I didn’t invite seven other people to crawl with me back into my mother’s womb and attempt to break out. That would be absurd! We went to Ultimate Escape Game.


Ultimate Escape Game is one of several (sub)urban escape rooms that are mushrooming all over the country. The first one I participated in was for my sister’s birthday in Washington, DC. Our team consisted of a total of five people, each in possession of specific skills and abilities. (I may have told this story before. Bear with me if I have.) Among our number was a doctor (a vet), a computer programmer, a defense strategist, an admin and me: all locked in a room where the goal was to discover the identity of our missing fictional compatriot – an American spy – and use that information to break out of the room. We had 45 minutes to complete our mission. This was the first room escape experience for all five of us – every one of us more competitive than the next – and we were absolutely determined to make it out of the room before the clock ran out.

We didn’t…

…and then the voice on the phone materialized in the form of a portly man to inform us that we had failed and that we were all dead.

Outside of bungee jumping off Bloukrans Bridge, it was the most thrilling thing I’d done in a long time and was eager to do it again. The emotions I experienced were very similar. That sense of utter dependency on your teammates; the thrilling trust factor that dovetails with the expectation (or hope) everyone is doing his/her job to ensure success; the blood rushing to your ears as you watch the clock count down…

I felt confident that with the right team and with an even greater number of bright minds, I’d find success in a second attempt. That’s why I gave The Ultimate Escape Game a few hundred dollars to lock me in a room with seven of the smartest people I know: my husband, 3 of my best friends, and their husbands. I was confident, assured of our triumph. We had an hour to break out of this room: the Coke Vault. The goal was to find the secret Coke formula using clues from history, science and general knowledge of the city of Atlanta. How could we fail? We had a born and bred Georgia boy, a corporate trainer, a nurse, 2 coders, a telephony expert, MX5…and me.

We didn’t make it out of the room.

Here’s the humbling part: Between the 8 of us, there was a cumulative of 319 +/- years of formal education and lived experience on God’s green earth, and we couldn’t make it out of the room! I was dumbfounded, incredulous, astounded by our failure. That is, until the escape admin came in at the conclusion of our mental exercise and explained how each clue fed to the next which in turn opened 3 other doors that would have led to our eventual freedom.


I should have felt defeated, but I felt relieved, oddly. As my good friend and fellow celebrant Sangima put it, “They could have locked us up in there for four additional hours and we still wouldn’t have made it out.” You know why? We were too constrained in our thinking; too inside the box; too cerebral in our execution. We were basically too smart for our own good, which is just another way of admitting that one is not nearly smart enough.

We asked the escape admin (I think her name was Allison) who designs these rooms and comes up with the flow charts for a successful exit. She named two women, Beth and Amy (or something generic like that), graduates of MIT and Georgia Tech.

“They’re basically geniuses,” she mused.

“And how did you get this job here? What was your interview like?” one of the husbands asked.

Recalling the memory, Allison smiled to herself and said, “They locked me in a room and gave me a certain amount of time to get out.”

One of us gasped.

Let me stop lying.

*EYE* gasped.

I couldn’t imagine interviewing for a job knowing that a cadre of masterminds was watching me via CCTV, judging my interactions with the props and clues and red herrings they’d carefully arranged in the room, all designed to ensure either the success or thwarting of my endeavors. And that’s when I began to ponder the afterlife… or Heaven, more specifically.

Everyone has a specific idea of what they think heaven is going to be like. (This general statement excludes the peculiar non-beliefs of atheists, of course.) The concept of Heaven conjures images of the Sistine Chapel with cherub angels floating lazily by on billowy clouds, or streets made of gold, or everlasting erections ready to probe an endless supply of virgins, all cloaked with phyllo paper-thin skin. For a lot of people, the idea of heaven or eternal paradise is centered on sensual pleasure. (It’s certainly the idea that has been sold to us from our first Sunday school class.)

However after being locked in that room for an hour, I don’t think I can ever go back to accepting the idea of a ‘beach resort heaven’. I’ve concluded that my version of “heaven” is limitless knowledge…and that my spirit being will be downloaded with it after it leaves this shell of flesh and phlegm.

The aspiration of one day achieving limitless knowledge and ability isn’t a new one. I mean, Bradley Cooper just starred in a film with the very same title depicting that same idea. Limitless is a film about this dude, a slacker, who mistakenly pops a clear pill that gives him (and any other partaker of the drug) unlimited mental ability. They have the power to forecast, analyze, interpret and acquire new knowledge with immediacy. The pill affects their physical abilities as well. Of course, it’s a man-made drug and therefore has its own limits, which we discover at the end of the movie. It’s not perfect.

But God is.

Part of our promise as believers is that we will come into the perfect knowledge of God when we see Him/Her/Yaweh. (The patriarchal crowd on MOM will have to forgive me. I’m no longer convinced that the Almighty is a “him”…as in a dude with a penis traversing the universe. I expect to be chastised this Sunday.) In order to receive perfect knowledge of a perfect being, we will obviously have to shed and burn/bury these suits of skin which have their own limitations and are mired in moribundity. They just won’t be able to handle the glory! And then at last, when the transition is complete, the download of all knowledge can begin according to God’s good pleasure.

My husband thinks that these are rather macabre thoughts to have on one’s birthday, but I think it’s only natural to begin to think about the end of one’s life – or specifically, what kind of investments one wants to make towards the end of one’s life – with each passing day; And especially on one’s birthday.

You’re probably reading this and saying to yourself “Dawg! Malaka has gone off the deep end!” Not at all. I can assure you that I am just as sane as you’ve always known me to be. It’s just that I can’t fathom a reality in which 38 years of life and experience has left me ill-prepared and incapable of escaping a room designed by a couple of college graduates. I may not be as smart as they are today, but I have to have hope that I will be some day! Right?

Transitioning to the next phase of life might be the only way to achieve that. It beats the hope/fear of being reincarnated as a gnat.


Do you ever think about life after life? What have you been taught about Heaven? Do you still believe it?