I know that I have referenced my near death experience a few times and I would like to post my recollection of it. It’s a very vivid memory for me. When I focus on it, I can relive it in my mind. One of the most interesting qualities of the memory though is that specific elements of it come into focus for me periodically. It’s almost like I forgot this critical thing, and then it comes flooding back and I can’t believe I forgot it. It’s always something tiny. But every time it happens it changes the nature of my feelings about the experience. The most recent example… I recently remembered the moment I couldn’t hold my breath anymore and I breathed in the salt water. I remembered it intensely, the cold, salty, burning sharp shortness of it. It only lasted an instant and then I was out of my body. But I recall giving up and breathing it in, the water flowing past my lips…my intense terror and then the sudden lack of it. It’s the discomfort of it that I had put aside. I wonder why I remembered it now. It has had the effect of reminding me of the costs and sacrifices of bliss or union with the holy. While they seem overwhelming and painful, they are really brief and needed in order to transition. I thought about this on my drive up to DC tonight. For the rest of this post I though I would share my NDE or Near Death Experience in full:
When I was 9 we went to the beach at Gulf Shores, AL as we did on many weekend days during the summer. On that particular day it was me, my sister Dawn, her friend Jane, my brother Jaison and my mother. We had stopped on the way to the beach at a gas station and I had begged for a blow up Mickey Mouse swim ring.
I was in the shallows with it around my waist. This was highly unusual for me. My brother and I were great swimmers. We were “Dolphins” at the Y. I liked to spend hours riding the waves and diving under them with Dawn and Jaison in the deep trough of water between the shore and the sandbar that paralleled it. This trip my mother had given in to my whining at the pit stop for the first time and let me get this silly toy, so I attempted to play with it in the foam, kick paddling and trying to ride it in little shallow waves. As the water was sucked out below me, I glanced over my shoulder just in time to see a huge wave for an instant before it was over my head.
At first I was just annoyed and attempted to right myself so I could stand up in the shallow water, but I quickly became frightened when I realized I was caught in a powerful current and could not stand up. Which way was down? Which way was up? I had not yet seen any of the very helpful training videos that are now produced about following bubbles. As a matter of fact, people didn’t even have VCR’s yet.
I was rapidly being pulled out to the deeper water, and all of a sudden all I could think of was that I can’t breathe, out of time, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe! Suddenly, I didn’t need to breathe anymore. I remember thinking that this was especially odd and about that time I realized I wasn’t in my body anymore because I could see my body rolling head over heels under the water right by me. I quickly rose up out of the water and turned toward the beach where I could see my mother reading her book and sunbathing. She hadn’t realized that I was missing yet.
I remember thinking dispassionately that she was going to be very upset that I was dead. I was caught by the idea that I was dead and I examined it for a second but didn’t FEEL anything. How strange, you just don’t fully realize how much of our feelings are just those: feelings…specifically attached to our bodies and physical processes. I looked at my Mom again. I loved my mother, but not in the way I was accustomed to. Not in the gut wrenching welling of emotion I was used to. Instead I saw my mother as Shirley, who had chosen me and had made choice after choice for my well being, often at her own expense for love of me. I could even see some of her choices in a weird kind of third person way I didn’t quite understand. I did not feel sad. I had a sensation of immense gratitude that she was my mother and love for her.
I then felt pulled to my left and up toward something that felt like the sun. Not because it was yellow or located where the sun would be. It was brightness, warmth and a feeling that I can best describe as the sensation you get when you are struck by something of extraordinary beauty. When you see a spectacular vista or hear a piece of music so beautiful it makes your chest ache and brings tears to your eyes in a kind of joy that is so immense it overflows you. I began to be suffused, to become that sensation and it was intensified and multiplied and at the same time distilled so that it was more intense. I became hyper-aware of the world and my place in it. It seemed to me that this feeling which was an awareness that I felt as God was all around me, was reaching for me as energy but with a clear identity as God the Father of All.
I could see a kind of transparency to everything. I looked again at the beach, at my family and what I saw was that the bodies we lived in weren’t us. That we weren’t really separate from the light that was God, which I could now see inside, suffusing each of them, that we weren’t separated from each other. I could see how He connected all of us together. It was very clear and instantly understandable to my 9 year old self. I was euphoric and happy and delighted to be seeing these things and to be going home. Because I also instantly understood that I was about to really go home, my real home and be safe, loved and get to rest, for lack of a better word.
It was about this time that the worst thing imaginable happened. A sensation like being sucked backwards through a giant vacuum cleaner grabbed hold of me and suddenly I was back in my body, hacking and gagging and coughing out gouts of salty water through a frayed throat and nose. Back in my body, which suddenly felt like an ill fitting pair of jeans from the Husky department at Sears. Somehow too small and too big in all the wrong places, vaguely cheap and certainly not built to last. I burst into tears and began to struggle with the person who held me, my sister’s best friend, Jane, who’d spotted the Mickey Mouse head crossing the sandbar on its way out to sea from a distance while she looked for sand dollars and pulled it up out of curiosity, only to find me attached and not breathing.
When I got to the shore I blubbered to my mother and tried incoherently to explain what happened to me, but she just shushed me and patted my back and told me I was fine. For a while, days, weeks, I tried to get her to understand but I could tell it frightened her so I stopped.
I never told anyone else about it for a long, long time. Not until after I saw a special on TV after the Challenger disaster. I was watching a discovery type channel a lot back then. At the time I had dreams of being an astronaut, before I found out my height would disqualify me. I’ll never forget walking into the room just as a special on undertows was airing. There on screen was an animated figure rolling “head over heels”. Apparently this happens when you get caught in one. I remember feeling lightheaded and like the world stopped for a second and the entire experience flooded back into my mind. To me, as I had grown older and reflected upon it, that memory of my body rolling by “head over heels” was the most unbelievable part. At 9 I hadn’t know this about the undertow. There was no Internet back then and it simply hadn’t occurred to me to check something like that. This was a kind of validation and one of many incidents in my life I would begin to see as a pattern of “God Winking” at me, to quote the book by SQuire Rushnell.