The Near Death Which Brought New Life
In my early twenties, I experienced a “near-death” occurrence. Note, I did not say “suffered” a near-death experience. Yes, at the time, I truly did suffer. In fact, I was hospitalized for over 30 days and hung onto life with every breath and strength I had. There’s truly no need for the gory details. It suffices to say, that I fought and fought hard to come back 110% and it took me over two years to do that completely. I was taught many things during this time and was brought to my knees in ways that would be unfathomable to the average person.
I went from being a finalist in the Miss Texas USA Pageant, to being reduced to a slug overnight. I will always be grateful to my mother who told the nurses and doctors that cared for me that I was a college educated, intelligent woman. I remember her saying that to several people responsible for my care, and it made my heart very happy. I did not have the ability to do that for myself. I didn’t even have the ability to speak a simple sentence at that time.
What’s important now, is what I learned from it all. What’s important now is how I live and how I care for others. NOW. That word alone is the only word that means much to me and my inner core lately. I have been alone most of my life, but I mean that in a psychological state. I have a heightened acuity towards other people’s needs and pain. I believe at times, they can feel this and it “unnerves them.” A good friend of mine with her degree from Princeton, told me once that I had an uncanny ability to make others feel comfortable around me. I believe that’s because I love people so much and they can feel it. My mother is a hospice nurse and she judges no one. I also do not judge others. I’ve had friends who were drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, strippers and also, friends who are profoundly disabled. I’ve had friends from all races and all walks of life. I have friends who are homeless and have nothing of material value. I don’t believe in the words, “birds of a feather, flock together.” I believe that phrase is judgmental and old school. I believe you can have friends, acquaintances and people in your life that are NOTHING like you, and you can learn from them. You can also be a support to them and you can love them.
I’ve found that everyone has an inherent need to be accepted. Everyone wants to be loved and needed in someway. NO ONE likes to be made fun of or treated poorly. There is a connection with each other that we all desire and there’s nothing wrong with this. The Simon and Garfunkel song, “I am a rock, I am an Island,” isn’t true. NO man is an Island.
I finally came upon something that rang true to me in every sense of the word. It is written by Fr. Richard Rohr’s lecture Dying: We Need it For Life, which he took from the research of Harvard prof Phillip L. Berman. Below is a list of personality changes that people go through when they are met with death. When they have “seen the other side” and have chosen to come back as I once did.
1. An amazing ability to live in the present. Most of us live in the two places where nothing ever happens: the past and the future. But the present is all we have. Every moment is a microcosm of the macrocosm. How you’re doing whatever you’re doing right now is probably how you do everything.
2. An abiding sense of deep confidence. The un-transformed self is inherently insecure and destabilized. The true Self finds a strong and lasting confidence — a sense that things are all right — without this being based on your external circumstances at all. You don’t know where the feeling comes from. It’s just there.
3. An immense decreased interest in material possessions. The Self knows that happiness doesn’t lie in another trip to the mall, or a bigger house, or any external attainment.
4. Spirituality becomes central and important. People know for certain the reality of the spiritual world.
5. A much higher natural compassion — which extends to almost everything. There’s a deep gratitude for everything. A forgiveness for everything.
6. A strong sense of life’s purpose — and that life has a purpose. The purpose itself can’t necessarily be verbalized, but there’s a sense that life is going somewhere, it all means something, it all matters. How you interact even with the check-out girl at the supermarket has significance. And that it’s worth the courage of taking ownership and responsibility for who you really are.
7. The sense that all life and love has inherent value. In group/out group thinking stops. You see the connectedness of things, and the world becomes a sacred universe. As Rohr says “once you’ve embraced the demon inside, the demon outside can no longer hurt you.”
8. An amazing ability to enjoy a high degree of solitude and silence. People who’ve faced death don’t need to have the radio on all the time. They generally don’t like loud or jarring music when they do have it on. They tend to prefer music that doesn’t make you angry, but that gathers the various parts of you together.
9. A desire to live a more social, communitarian, participatory form of life. As much as this might seem to contradict the previous item, it doesn’t. Transformed people can sit in silence, and still feel connected. And they know that life is about servant-hood. Leaving the small self behind, and living in the larger self, you feel a sense of abundance. The true Self knows there’s nothing to lose, and that the more I give away, there’s always a deeper discovery of the Self.
10. A strong sense of wonder, a perennial sense of gratitude. You’re grateful, and don’t even know why. You just have that quiet confidence, for no reason. The true Self, Rohr says, is always confident, and always grateful.
So, may we all strive to live as if we’ve died. In order to truly live, we must know that death itself is not very frightening. It’s simply another chapter, and another phase we will all face one day. I hope that one day we can all drink from the same stream, and feel refreshed in our love for one another.