I would like to relate something of myself.
As a rule, I am a shy and quiet person, not given to vocalization, particularly about myself, but, sometimes, it is both useful and good to force one's self to do what is difficult. This may be one of those times. I understand that the thing which I am about to relate is odd, and most people who read this will write it off as an interesting fiction, or a metaphor for some unclear, though doubtless deep, idea. However, as I go though life I can not help but notice that there are certain people who have something in their face or in their voice which indicates that they might believe me, they may understand. It is to those people that I write.
This happened more than half a lifetime ago. I was, of course, much younger than I am now, being currently near fifty. I was then in my early twenties. Young that I was, certain organs in my body were pumping hormones out at a truly disturbing rate. This was a thing which, while in some ways alarming, was, overall, not without its pleasures. The principle one of which was the glue-like relationship my body was constantly demanding with women. Because of this, I was on my way to see a "chick" (since this particular chick later became, and continues to be, my wife, I probably should be speaking in a more respectful manner. However, I am, for the moment, attempting to recapture a memory of my lost youth, so I stand by my diction choice).
Anyway, there I was, hormones and all, with a three hour drive between me and the lady. This was in the winter months, and, on this particular day, it was snowing like a son-of-a-bitch. My Encore was only slightly larger than a pack of cigarettes. The snow which had already fallen was rubbing the undercarriage. More snow was being added to that all the time and I was losing sight of the tires and the road. No sane person would be out driving in a tiny vehicle through deep snow on a three hour trip, unless they were a young man oozing hormones seeking a glue-like relationship with a chick. My situation exactly.
Well, two hours into the trip, stiff as a board (muscles, that is, from the tension of hard travel), my little car decided to develop a mind of its own, exerting its will over that of its occupant. Apparently autonomy did not agree with the auto, because almost immediately it decided to commit suicide, carrying me with it. This act of auto self-destruction was going to take the form of a sudden collision into the concrete pillar of a highway overpass, the very one which was looming a short distance away and directly in front of my eyes.
The slowing down of time at times like these is such a common human experience that using it in a narrative has become trite. However, it is such a common human experience that one can not avoid using it at times like these. The time between my loss of control and the ultimate collision stretched from a tiny fraction of a second into, by my count, roughly ten thousand years, although these ten thousand years still occupied only a tiny fraction of a second. It's strange. I don't understand it, but there it is. Go figure.
I remember each second of each of these ten thousand years with the kind of clarity that would be useful to, say, a student cramming for a final exam, if it could only be induced by some meditation technique or exotic designer drug, something which did not require an intimate relationship with death. But in this case, death handed me perfect recall and I shook on the deal. I will now relate to you all that occurred (although in a somewhat condensed form).
This is the dramatic point at which a good author would end the story. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about that. I'm afraid I'm not a very good author and I have more to say.
Obviously I didn't die, did I? I mean, if I did, I wouldn't be writing this, would I? The next thing I knew I was driving along the highway. The overpass was behind me. I, and my vehicle were alike undamaged. Apparently turning the wheel gently and tapping the brake softly really is the way to save yourself in situations such as this one. The driver's training teachers are right. But. I. Did. Die. I know I did. I crashed, my body was damaged beyond repair, I went wherever it is that the dead go. I experienced the dissolution of my body and my mind. I experienced eternity. And just when the process was irrevocably complete, it was revoked, and I returned.
The well educated among my readers are now making a little waving gesture of dismissal with their hand. They are saying to themselves something along these lines: "Well, what happened here is that, under the sudden stress of the situation, the body began producing adrenaline which kicked the body into hyper drive. The conscious mind relinquished control to the unconscious part of the mind which is able to function faster and more efficiently, allowing him to maneuver the car without conscious thought. It is this disengagement of conscious from unconscious which the poor author is confusing with the experience of death. A common error. It explains, of course, the famous near-death experiences of people on the operating table as well. It makes an interesting narration, but it is all based on an error in perception."
If that's you talking, fine. Go with that if you want to. But I was there. I know better.
Those with a more spiritual inclination are probably thinking something along these lines: "The author's destiny (karma, whatever) was unfulfilled. The Good Lord (Buddha, Yoda, whoever) reached into this world and sent him back. Praise Jesus (Allah, etc.)." But that isn't what happened either.
There was an eternity of undifferentiated existence, then I came back to the very second at which I left. I didn't see my dead relatives, Jesus didn't take me by the hand, I didn't go "into the light" and then get sent back. Maybe my dead relatives were all busy at choir practice, Jesus may have been otherwise occupied in Rwanda or Berlin. Perhaps the light was temporarily off-line. There was nothing to return from. If God wanted something of me, he was painfully unclear as to what it was.
Sometimes I entertain myself by imagining that God tossed me a miracle, immediately followed by a pop quiz, just to see if I'd pass. Grading my own paper, I'd have to say "No."
Of course, if I was another type of writer, this is where I'd pull out the line about how this changed my life, I realized I'd been given a second chance, I have a destiny to fulfill, blah, blah, blah… but then I'd really be lying. My life went on pretty much as it had been, hormones and all. As a matter of fact, I don't even pull out these memories very often, although when I do, I like to take the details of my odd experience and shuffle them like a deck of cards, lay them out on the table, and try to pick out meaningful patterns, but they just aren't there unless I put them there.
If I am honest with myself, this is what I'm left with: I died. I came back from the void. And I continued on.
But that isn't such a good moral, and you've come so far!
You ought to get something out of reading this, so here it is: The only meaningful thing I can say is that, when I look back over my life, I notice odd gaps in memory. I notice strange alterations in my course that can only be explained by some powerful event dividing what came before and what came after, but the intervening events which would justify the transition are not there. And when I try to pin people down about their own lives I notice the same thing. We seem to hide this from ourselves by patching the holes up with old photographs and home movies, or remembered fragments of plots from movies and novels we've perused and largely forgotten. This seems to be normal. But I wonder. If we could remember all of our lives, complete, without gaps, would we discover how many times, in the course of one life, we actually do die? Such knowledge would have little practical utility. But it would be interesting to rise up every now and then like a phoenix from our own ashes, look around and say, with feeling, "Well by golly, here I go again."
Copyright 2010 B. de Corbin and Splendid Fish Studio