Dancing Bear studied. She wrote, and then wrote some more. Her back hurt terribly from sitting so long. But it was Finals Week! Something made her keep going, even though she was pretty sure she’d never graduate. “Old habits die hard,” she said to herself, and then she kept typing.
It was 3 a.m. when she finished The Paper. “It’s not a very good Paper,” she mumbled, yawning. “I’ll just finish this Works Cited page, then it’s to bed for me!”
Before long, though — maybe only five minutes — Dancing Bear fell asleep. Luckily she had taken her glasses off, or they would have been smooshed. And then Dancing Bear dreamed a dream…
“I’m in heaven!” cried Dancing Bear. “Either that, or Ireland!” But she realized it couldn’t be Ireland, because it was too sunny. The sun shining on the golden gates nearly blinded her. “My glasses! Where are my glasses?”
“You won’t need them here.”
Dancing Bear jumped when she heard the voice. “Who said that?”
“Who do you think? I’m the Gate Keeper.”
And he was holding what looked like a margarita. “Yum!” said she.
“Glad you like it,” said Cabana Boy. “Ready to enter Heaven?”
Dancing Bear started following the margarita as it moved toward the Gates.
“Oh, wait!” Her hand went to her mouth. “I’ve forgotten my coupons!”
“Well, I call them coupons, but I guess they’re really not.” Dancing Bear looked at the clouds on which she stood, and sort of shuffled. She hemmed. She hawed. And then she said, “They’re really Martyr Points, I guess. I was told they were worth a lot once you got up here.”
Cabana Boy looked confuseder. “I’m sorry, Dancing Bear, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Seeing her crestfallen look, he added (this time, more cheerfully; after all, this was Heaven!), “Explain them to me. Maybe we call them something different up here, and that’s why I don’t recognize the name!” He gave her a big smile, full of pearly-white teeth.
“Martyr Points are what you get when you do things like, oh, spend lots of time with people you don’t like, in places you don’t want to be. Or go hungry for no reason. Or work longer hours than everyone else even though you don’t get paid for them. Or…or…stay up and study all night for something that no longer matters!” She got more excited as she explained further. “You get double or triple Points if you give up Something or Someone You Love and it falls on a big Holiday, or Day of General Importance to Everyone!” She smiled shyly. “I have lots of those points.”
“Ah.” said Cabana Boy. “I understand.” He set the tray down and came over to Dancing Bear. He put his arms around her and hugged her. She didn’t know why, but he had tears in his eyes.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Is there something wrong with me? Can I not get into Heaven, because I forgot my Martyr Point coupons?”
“Nothing’s wrong with you, Dancing Bear,” he said, gently. “There never was.” He patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry, you don’t need any coupons to get in here.”
He continued explaining. “The Martyr Point scheme has been used by various religions throughout the ages, the goal being to deny people joy. The last thing rulers want is happy subjects, because happy people don’t want rulers. It’s worse than that, actually, because they convince folks that uncalled-for self-denial will bring them joy — eventually. Its success lies in its subtlety: once the program has been started, it’s self-perpetuating.” Cabana Boy sighed. “The truth is, you don’t need Martyr Points or coupons to get into Heaven. In fact, you can have Heaven on earth, if you give up the Martyr idea altogether.” He looked at Dancing Bear. “Do you want to stay here? Or do you want to go back?”
“OWWW!! Oh, my back!” Dancing Bear had woken up from the pain. There were her books, her computer, the Final Paper. She was back, all right. No Cabana Boy, no margarita. Nothing had changed.
Or had it?