Janet Sheridan: Heavenly onlookers

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Janet Sheridan

When I was nine, a Sunday school teacher shocked and alarmed me.

I sat on my miniature chair, gazed up at her wobbling chins, and listened with growing panic as she described a heaven in which all my ancestors could look down and watch everything I did. Every day.

Horrors! Plucky Great Great Grandmother Simmons, who crossed the plains with the Utah pioneers, saw me stomp from the room and slam the screen door when told to go get the mail?

Grandpa Hall knew I lied when I swore I hadn’t run through the tomato patch, leaving broken plants behind? And cousin Eula knew I routinely swallowed my gum even after Carolyn warned me that eventually a big wad of undigested gum would plug up my stomach, and I’d never eat again?

Then, as I went about my days, keeping a worried eye on heaven when I sneaked a handful of cookies, swept dirt under the bed or twisted Barbara’s arm until she said I was beautiful, I began to question the concept of spies in heaven: didn’t folks have better things to do than checking to see if I remembered to wash behind my ears?

Heaven must be a boring place if I provided the best entertainment my ancestors could find. Wouldn’t they rather play harps and sing, find unfortunates in need of help, or sit by their celestial radio and listen to The Shadow?

Eventually, the idea of a heavenly host scrutinizing my every move faded, and I resumed my haphazard ways without imagining appalled angels.

Sometimes, though, I still suffer flashbacks. Just yesterday, storing away laundered sheets and noticing the chaos in my linen closet, I thought, “What if someone should see this hodgepodge?”

I controlled my impulse to spring into action—straightening stacks, labeling shelves, discarding stained doilies—by telling myself that throughout my many years of housewifery, no one had ever seen my linen closet, though a niece once felt woozy and had to sit down after looking for a waste basket in the dark pit beneath my kitchen sink.

Still, you never know, someone might be watching. Perhaps Uncle Norley at this very minute is remarking to Aunt Lois, “There she goes, thinking about taking a nap before noon rather than taking care of her linen closet. Again.”

Others don’t seem to be burdened by the idea of loved ones—or total strangers—knowing their every move. Wooed by the wonders of technology—computers, tablets, smart phones—many people seem compelled to share their activities, thoughts, and emotions on Facebook, My space, or You Tube.

Willy-nilly, they post photographs, videos, extreme opinions, and private information that might be viewed by potential employers, college admissions personnel, acquaintances eager to broadcast embarrassing material, or incredulous grandparents like Joel and me.

Joel set up a Facebook page for us. I think he’s updated it twice in the last five years.

Instead of posting our news and photographs, he visits the pages of friends, relatives, and grandchildren to find out what they’re up to. He rarely posts comments on the pages he visits, which is why his sister-in-law accuses him of lurking like a stalker.

I recently read an online article urging younger people to practice caution on social media: to realize that in any crowd someone will have a camera or phone and will post photos without permission; to know that once the flirty picture is sent, the sender has lost control of it; to be aware that gripes and complaints about bosses and teachers can get back to them; and to understand that posting personal dramas—fights, breakups, and hurtful rumors—usually leads to more drama.

And I only had to worry about a horrified heavenly host.

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