On May 26, 2012 I died.
I didn't almost die; I died. My heart stopped pumping blood. In most of the world and through most of history that means death. No pulse. No breath. Dead.
I was fortunate, privileged some would say, to be on a street in a wealthy suburb with easy access to some of the best treatment in the world. I live in a place where we fight death. At great expense we maintain a huge apparatus of people and buildings and technology to wage that war.
A cell phone call was made. Police cars, fire trucks, and an ambulance showed up in minutes. Trained and dedicated people jumped out of those vehicles. They electrocuted me. They strapped me into a machine that pushed so hard on my chest it broke my ribs as it forced blood through my body. They raced me to a hospital. They blasted my body back to life.
That was my body. Living was another process.
Someone saw me and knew me. She called my pastor who dropped what she was doing and came to support Sheila, my wife, who was, without any preparation, making life and death decisions with strength, with love and trust for me, and with faith and hope for whatever was going to happen next.
Over the next weeks, Sheila and our children would sit with me listening to the technology. One machine breathed for me; another recorded every blip of my restarted heart; another fed me; another pumped water and death-defying drugs into me; another massaged my legs; another, buried in the bed, shifted the pressure on my back ever so gently.
There were a lot of machines and a lot of drugs involved.
Friends and family celebrated when I moved my tongue; and when I raised my arm, and when I sat up, and when I walked. Later, when I could speak, folks came to see me and to listen to me talk, even though much of what I had to say was nonsense. Pain killers and even temporary oxygen starvation will do that to a person.
I am deeply grateful for all the people and technology that waged war against death on my behalf. They helped me beat death…but they didn’t bring me into life.
What brought me into life was faith, hope, and above all from the love in everything around me.
Rilke captured some powerful and precious some 100 years ago. He wrote:
Animals see the openness of creation with their whole eyes.Having died, I no longer fear dying.
Our eyes, turned back upon themselves, encircle and seek to snare creation, setting traps for freedom.
The faces of the beasts show what truly IS to us: we who upend the infant and force its sight to fix upon things and shapes, rather the freedom that the beasts occupy, that openness that lies so deep within their faces, free from death!
We alone face death.
The beast, death behind and God before, moves free through eternity like a river running.
What I fear is a return to a state of not living—of being so concerned about what I’ve done; what others have done to me; what others have thought of me; and of what I will do or others will do or what others will think—that often I cannot see the openness.
Three years on, and a lot of recovery behind me, I long to gaze into that openness. And sometimes I find a moment, an hour, a day when I can.
So I write this for myself each morning as a reminder:
Have the courage to live.
To do what is right.
To do what is important.
To act with thought and awareness.
To act with kindness.